The Lightning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts
In the continuous age of adapted musicals continues, we have yet to really see one that fits a very specific demographic until this next national touring show came along. I’m always a supporter of a new musical - original or not - that attracts a group that normally would never go to live theatre. The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical does just that with its already large young adult, teen and tween audience base that it’s garnered from the popular book series turned movie.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical brings Greek mythology to life in this all new musical that has been described as Dear Evan Hansen meets Harry Potter. Percy Jackson leads a fairly normal life. The teenager grew up never knowing who is father was but is cared for by his unbelievably supportive mother. One day on a class field trip to the Met, he soon discovers that his life isn’t as normal as he thought it was. After a run in with a demon and a Minotaur that kills his mother, Percy discovers he is a demigod, or half-god, and is the son of Poseidon. He must now attend Camp Half-Blood with other demigods where he receives a quest to find Zeus stolen lightning bolt, save his mother from the underworld and learn the truth of more than he may think.
I had no experience with the story before seeing the show. I had heard of the books and knew there was a movie adaptation but other than that, nothing. I had little to no expectations compared to most but I’m pleased to say that I was pleasantly surprised and how delightful it was. It really does take a story of a teenager who doesn’t feel right about his place in the world and in turn finds a sense of purpose through inner-strength, discovery and friendship.
With a story that involves the Greek gods, I figured it would have some pretty cool special effects and honestly they did them all just right. After interviewing Ryan Knowles earlier this week, he mentioned that the practical effects are where you can “see the seams.” They embrace the fact that this is live theatre and they want you to know that. It includes cool puppetry and toilet paper used in a very innovative way. The use of rope lights help with scene transitions and added effects during many songs.
The effects are great however they don’t manage to hide a slightly basic industrial themed set. Three Greek style pillars reside up stage with graffiti markings on them to give them a more modern edge. In front of the pillars is a large industrial pipe structure that allows actors to play on top of it but other than that there aren’t many other levels to it.
This small but intimate cast rounds out this entertaining show with powerful voices and strong stage presence. Many of them are even from the original off-Broadway production which makes listening to the soundtrack great since they are all so fantastic.
Chris McCarrell plays the title role and does so with a sense of dry humor, teenage angst and with stunning vocals. Jorrel Javier plays his comedic sidekick best friend Grover and manages to steal many scenes with his reigned in over the top comedy. Kristin Stokes plays Annabeth, the daughter of Athena. Her confidence is thrilling to watch and is hopeful to see a younger female character not being the damsel in distress. Stokes vocals are strong and a highlight of the show.
Ryan Knowles is a shining star playing not only Chiron, Percy’s teacher and mentor, but a variety of other characters including a more flamboyant sparkly version of Hades than what we are used to. I am all officially calling for all performances of Hades to be re-imagined as this version because he nails it. Knowles also has the lowest but dominating voice in any show I’ve heard. It’s controlled and rich.
After researching the book a bit more there are some details that are drastically different including the fact that Percy is actually 12 years old whereas nothing about McCarrell says “young misfit boy.” There are a few details that get drastically changed to fit the musical and without reading the books I don’t know how well die hard fans will react. That being said the musical is still enjoyable, entertaining and a fun evening out centered around a supportive message and theme.
The LIghtning Thief - The Percy Jackson Musical plays at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts now through June 22nd.