‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ a Stirring Adaptation of the Titular Rick Riordan Novel

Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, Jorrel Javier, The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Stephen Brackett

(L to R): Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, Jorrel Javier in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett at the Longacre Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

It’s even in the Bible. Gods hung around with humans and children were born to them. Of course this caused issues for the children and the parent who was human, just like in real life single parent homes. But in mythology the god often went about his or her business coupling with other humans and abandoning each family he or she created. The parent who was a “god” was too busy to care  for the “demi-god” who grew up feeling unwanted, confused, unloved. Thus, a whole race of weird “demi-gods” wandered among humanity and caused chaos because they had been damaged by their “god” parent and had the DNA (magic) to realize that they were “different” and could take it out on humanity when they were “pissed” off.

The Lightning Thief -The Percy Jackson Musical, Chris McCarrell, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

Chris McCarrell in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ Book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett, Longacre Theatre (Jeffrey Daniel)

Some of these elements are the basis of Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of books of which The Lightning Thief is the first novel and launching pad for the fun characters in the remaining Riordan books. Many of them are tied in to Greek Mythology. Riordan’s fantasy-adventure novels gave rise to two films with the titular Percy Jackson identifying as the demi-god protagonist: Percy Jackson and The Olympians, The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson, Sea of Monsters (2013). When word got out that a theatrical production was being considered and TheaterworksUSA was involved, the rest is history.

Collaborators Joe Tracz who wrote the book and Rob Rokicki who wrote the music & lyrics, fashioned an already successful story-line to titillate and enthrall theatergoers. Their initial hour show evolved with more songs and extended book which morphed into the current production on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre, The Lightning Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical.

The Lightning Thief -The Percy Jackson Musical, Chris McCarrell, James Hayden Rodriguez, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

James Hayden Rodriguez, Sarah Beth Pfeifer and the Company in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ Book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett, Longacre Theatre (Jeffrey Daniel)

If you and your children are fans of Riordan’s work, you must see this Broadway show whose adaptation of Riordan’s novel parallels many of the book’s elements. The production reinforces vital themes about life, purpose, goodness and evil working to create soul strength and character, ethics, and personal accountability. Indeed, the characters learn that they may have been left with a flawed creation warped by even more flawed gods when they war with each other. However, all is well because the demi-gods, have the talent and ability to rise above the chaos, and with determination, correct and perfect the world and themselves, teaching the gods a lesson or two.

Sarah Beth Pfeifer, Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele,The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Stephen Brackett

(L to R): Sarah Beth Pfeifer, Chris McCarrell (top) Kristin Stokes, Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Jalynn Steele, and James Hayden Rodriguez (bottom, left to right) in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett at the Longacre Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

Tracz and Rokicki evolve these notions to an uplifting conclusion in The Lightning Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical which emphasizes that the principal characters and all of us must leave safety and security to face the unknown. Then, exercising their inner spiritual/magical powers, they must fearlessly overcome  the real monsters that are out in the world. In the final song that the Company sings, “Bring on the Monsters,” never were truer words spoken for us today about the “monsters’ in human form roiling social currents and effecting chaos. That it is up to all of us to stand against wickedness and with hope, courage and wisdom thwart evil intentions wherever they may be, remains the mission for young and old, now and forever.

The Lightning Thief -The Percy Jackson Musical, Chris McCarrell, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

Chris McCarrell in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’, Book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett Longacre Theatre (Jeffrey Daniel)

The production’s adaptation is a fine one with segments of theatrical spectacle (i.e. lighting design by David Lander and hair wig & makeup design by Dave Bova, costumes by Sydney Maresca) brilliantly effected. The show is choreographed by Patrick McCollum’s who uses his talents to generate excitement. With joy and exuberance Stephen Brackett’s direction steers the production to emphasize valuable lessons to comfort, to uplift.

Magnificent is the energy and vibrance of the ensemble who don various wigs and costumes, accents and upper or lower register “voices” to portray gods, monsters, enemies and friends. The cast appears to be a multitude, however, only seven actors take on key parts. These include Jorel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Chris McCarrell, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, James Hayden Rodriguez, Sam Leicht, Jalynn Steele, Kristin Stokes, and the understudies whom I saw on Sunday evening, 20 October, T. Shyvonne Stewart and Izzy Figueroa.

Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell,Kristin Stokes, James Hayden Rodriguez, The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell (top),Kristin Stokes, and James Hayden Rodriguez in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett at the Longacre Theatre (Jeremy Daniel)

The actors’ versatility is just grand and some are particular standouts investing their will and being to apply their full-throated vocal talents. One standout is Jorrell Javier who portrays both the hell-raising god of the Half-Breed Summer Camp (god of wine- Dionysus) and the friend and protector satyr-Grover, a character who is both lovable and self-effacing. For example Grover endearingly talks to squirrels in a segment during the protagonists’ hero quest. Since squirrels are ubiquitous, Grover’s talent proves invaluable as he, Percy and Annabeth move on their journey to discover the lightning thief, find where he has hidden the lightning BOLT and save Percy’s mother Sally from Hades and the underworld.

The Lightning Thief -The Percy Jackson Musical, Chris McCarrell, Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Kristin Stokes Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

(L to R): Jorrel Javier, Chris McCarrell, Ryan Knowles (top), and Kristin Stokes in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett at the Longacre Theatre
(Jeremy Daniel)

The male and female leads played by Chris McCarrell (Percy Jackson) and Kristin Stokes (Annabeth) have powerful, sonorous voices, though sometimes their enunciation is wanting. For those adults unfamiliar with Riordan’s books and the films they spawned, this may be problematic. Indeed, the fans will breeze through the familiar humor, fun mythological modernization, and melodies sung with joy and verve by the actors. For those unfamiliar with the plot, themes and characters, clarity is crucial. To receive the greatest enjoyment and a resounding response from the audience, all of the words must be clearly sung as they were clearly spoken.

McCarrell’s Percy Jackson is wistful searcher, investigator, educational ner-do-well, sometime whiner. He’s upset that he is always expelled from school, initially for his challenging condition (he’s ADHD and Dyslexic) and secondarily for being in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” However, his mother (Jalynn Steele, u/s T. Shyvonne Stewart) encourages his furtive yearnings and he and she sing the uplifting “Strong,” keying in the theme that undergirds Percy throughout the play.

Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, and Jorrel Javier, The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

(L to R): Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, and Jorrel Javier’The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’ book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett at the Longacre Theatre
(Jeremy Daniel)

As events steer Percy to his destiny (“The Minotaur/The Weirdest Dream”) and growing self-revelation, he learns that his trouble-maker status is caused by Poseidon’s enemies who scape-goat him and create havoc precisely because he is his father Poseidon’s son. His growing realization of the evil undercurrents around him augments throughout the production until he steps into his hero mantle in “Son of Poseidon,” confronts the real “lightning thief” and does battle in the present “The Last Day of Summer.”

The quest teaches Percy, Grover and Annabeth that life is filled with trials, but attitude and how you confront obstacles makes the difference so you are not the victim but are the hero. He and the effervescent Kristin Stokes as Annabeth (Athena’s daughter) go to battle with courage, grace and strength. They elicit the power to confront whatever the gods/monsters throw their way. The production concludes with the excellent “Bring on the Monsters.” Percy, Annabeth, Grover and the Company have matured to understand their true purpose on earth: confront the powers of evil that inhabit human nature and thwart their actions.

The Lightning Thief -The Percy Jackson Musical, Chris McCarrell, Joe Tracz, Rob Rokicki, Rick Riordan, Longacre Theatre, Stephen Brackett

Chris McCarrell in ‘The Lightning Thief-The Percy Jackson Musical,’, Book by Joe Tracz, Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki, adapted from the book by Rick Riordan, directed by Stephen Brackett Longacre Theatre (Jeffrey Daniel)

The plot twists are intriguing, born on the wings of the music and lyrics. Especially strong are “The Oracle,” “Good Kid” and “Killer Quest!” which are sung by Percy and the Company and in the last number of the first act, (“Killer Quest”) by Percy, Annabeth, Grover and the Company. The themes of betrayal, true friendship, loyalty and the importance of the journey revealing one’s nature and identity are ripe and relate to all ages. Kudos to Tracz and Rokicki for touching upon the timeless verities of Riordan’s work as well as adding salient concepts that especially resonate today in our world of real human monsters.

The creative team deserves recognition for their designs. These coalesce around the lighthearted fantastic tenor of the production which reflects and symbolizes “the roadshow” genre in its rough sets, puppetry and effects in the realm of rustic illusory suggestion. Do not expect the wild, technical phantasmagoria of Beetlejuice. The show’s simplicity is charming and intentionally not “over the top” Broadway. It keeps one foot on the ground and melds the concepts of gods and monsters evocatively, not believably. Creatives are Lee Savage (scenic design) Sydney Maresca (costume design) David Lander (lighting design) Ryan Rumery (sound design) Achesonwalsh Studios (puppetry) Dave Bova (hair, wig & makeup design).

The Lightning Thief The Percy Jackson Musical runs with one intermission at the Longacre Theatre (220 West 48th Street). It closes on 5 January and tickets will be hard to come by as we near the holidays. For tickets and times CLICK HERE.

 

 

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About caroleditosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is an Entertainment Journalist, unpublished novelist, poet and playwright. Writing is my life. When I don't write I am desolate. Carole Di Tosti has over 1000 articles, reviews, and other writings online. Carole Di Tosti writes for Theater Pizzazz and other New York theater websites; Carole Di Tost free-lanced for VERVE and wrote for Technorati for 2 years until the site changed its focus and Blogcritics which is archived. Carole Di Tosti covers premiere film festivals in the NY area:: Tribeca FF, NYFF, DOC NY, Hamptons IFF, NYJewish FF. She also covers SXSW film.

Posted on October 22, 2019, in Broadway, NYC Theater Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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