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Review: 'The Lightning Thief' musical gives 'Percy Jackson' series new life

If you’ve read the best-selling young adult novels or found yourself in a movie theater circa 2010 catching the flicks (guilty as charged), chances are you’ve heard of “The Lightning Thief” - the musical based upon “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.” “The Lightening Thief” tells the story of Percy, a demigod (half human, half god) and his quest to locate a lightning bolt which brims with untapped powers. The film adaptations (in 2010 and 2013) were not worth writing home about, so it's no surprise the opening number of the musical (“The Day I Got Expelled”) has more energy in five minutes then the entire two films combined.

Often compared unfavorably to the likes of “Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson” has enough written in its coda to entertain the youngsters who call themselves aficionados of the material (the show is geared towards the 8-12-year-old demographic), but adults could find themselves enjoying the musical. Judging by the reactions of those sitting around me, Rick Riordan's best-selling mashup on Greek myths and modern-day pubescents strikes a chord with those who hold the material closely to their chests. Stacked with impressive rock ballads, campy humor, and low scale technical effects, “Percy Jackson” offers viewers a fun diversion from the usual gripe of children’s theatre.

An episodic adventure in every sense, the story follows troubled teen Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell - who originated the role off-Broadway before this current tour landed at The Fisher) and his quest with his best friends to prevent an all-out war among their powerful parents (Percy’s father is Poseidon) while also rescuing his mother from the underworld. The story features plenty legendary baddies along the way that prove worthy obstacles of our main comrades (including Greek favorite Medusa). But sitting underneath all the cheesy one-liners and decently crafted props is a seemingly relatable coming-of-age tale about finding your place in the world.  

That’s a strong message for the kiddos and the special effects (while not groundbreaking) will likely wow them regardless (who would’ve thought toilet paper and leaf blowers could be so effective)? As such, the musical is probably best enjoyed if you’ve got a tyke along for the journey. The seven cast members, though too old to be considered anything below the age of 25, have enough angsty charisma to convince you otherwise. Ryan Knowles steals the biggest laughs (aside from McCarrell’s spunky Percy Jackson) as he portrays a variety of characters ranging from the Devil himself to Percy’s mentor Chiron, a prancing centaur complete with a long tail sticking out his back (Knowles has a terrific voice that would lend itself exceptionally to trailer voiceovers). 

The same could be said for Jorrel Javier's Grover (Percy’s best friend who is a half goat, half human) and his portrayal of the crotchety camp counselor Mr. D (the tune “Another Terrible Day” is a caffeinated highlight). While those characters are fun in their own merits, McCarrell’s Percy and his love interest/Athena’s daughter Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) are given plenty to chew on with more serious issues regarding their parents, dyslexia, and ADHD.

My main qualm with the production, aside from a spout of songs that don’t find the correct rhythm within the show’s foundation, is how the lighting design often blinds those sitting in the audience. Not to degrade the hard work under Stephen Brackett’s direction or Rod Kinter’s intricate fight choreography, but the flashing strobe lights often make sequences hard to follow. I understand the need to create the vibe of a rock concert, except David Lander’s design swells in several wrong places. Not to mention The Fisher’s acoustics don’t always mesh with Ryan Rumery’s sound design, however music director Wiley Deweese keeps the ship sailing through the final moments.

“The Lightning Thief” doesn’t electrify or shatter the glass ceiling, but credit needs to be given to lyricist Rob Rokicki, Joe Tracz for his engaging script, and author Rick Riordan for making Greek mythology interesting and exciting for students of all grade levels (even I found myself learning a thing or two). The musical ends with a cliffhanger setting up the inevitability of a sequel (a rarity in the realm of musical theatre) and if that production ever comes to fruition, I’ll be happy to come back and see where the story takes these characters.

IF YOU GO: You can check out showtimes and purchase tickets for the production by clicking the link here

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