There are few things more wonderful than a really solid adaptation of a beloved book, and after enduring a certain unmentionable film a few years ago, it’s high time for fans of Percy Jackson to get something for their patience. Enter The Lightning Thief, a new musical by Joe Tracz (Book) and Rob Rokicki (Music & Lyrics) based on Rick Riordan’s novel of the same name. It is everything anyone who’s ever dreamed of going to Camp Half-Blood has ever wanted!
In case you haven’t read Riordan’s The Lightning Thief (in which case stop reading this and go read that!), the musical follows Percy Jackson (played by Chris McCarrell), a normal kid who tries his best to be good but is constantly sabotaged by his dyslexia, ADHD, and knack for always finding himself at the center of trouble. His world changes when he discovers that the dad he’s never known is actually a Greek god, and his “weaknesses” are actually powers. Now it’s up to Percy—along with his best friend Grover (played by George Salazar) and new demi-god friend Annabeth (Kristin Stokes)—to go on a quest to stop a theft and prevent a war between the gods.
The impressive range of the cast is highlighted with the use of clever double-casting. George Salazar plays both the loveable best friend Grover and the hilariously irascible camp director Mr. D. The fact that he was goofy Grover only one scene before makes his screaming about paperwork as Mr D. even funnier. Jonathan Raviv plays Percy’s mentor at camp, Chiron, but also the less-intimidating-than-he-thinks-he-is Hades, among other characters. The double and triple castings get more hilarious and absorbing as the play moves forward.
Percy (Chris McCarrell) tries to get some straight answers out of Mr. D (George Salazar).
Tracz incorporates different musical styles, from the lilty “Campfire Song,” where the kids work out their parental frustrations in lines like “Oh things couldn’t be worse/when your parents run the universe,” to the R&B “D.O.A.” in the Underworld (more on that later). Pop-y beats and belty ballads successfully take Camp Half-Blood to the musical stage.
The production also does a nice job using the space. The set is fairly skeletal, and to the strength of the show, they don’t try to hide the bones of it. Special effects rely a lot on the audience’s imagination, but with just enough magic to prime the pump. When Chiron reveals he is in fact a centaur, he stands up to reveal not an extra set of legs, but a long tail and a prance-y walk. Yet somehow, you see a centaur.
Percy douses Ares (James Hayden Rodriguez)—and the first few rows—in torrents of “water” using his godly talent. Kristin Stokes and George Carrol add some backup.
Departures from the book worked more as a function of a book-to-stage adaptation than anything else. Clever translations of Riordan’s scenes, like the Underworld as a record company, played well. In the novel, the entrance to the Underworld is in a record company. In the musical, the ferryperson, Charon, played by the brilliant Carrie Compere (who also plays Percy’s Mom and Aphrodite’s daughter), treats the trio to her own demo featuring a selection of the dead musicians already in the Underworld (Mozart, Curt Cobain, and Janis Joplin).
The heart of Riordan’s series is the rallying cry that kids can be brave and do hard things despite tough circumstances—even if those circumstances are an absentee parent or feeling misunderstood or lost. Every aspect of Tracz and Rokicki’s production thrums with this empowering message. When McCarrel’s Percy sings “I’m good enough for someone!” and Stokes’ Annabeth promises “My grand plan/ is that I will be remembered!” you can feel the truth of it.
Percy explains how he got expelled from school.
The Lightning Thief is running for a few more weeks through May 6 at the Lucille Lortel theater in NYC. The show just soars with goofy humor but resonates with enough angsty gravity to keep it grounded. If you have to talk a Pegasus into flying you here to see it, definitely do it.
*Production photos by Jeremy Daniels