Broadway review by Helen Shaw
In order to enjoy the The Lightning Thief, a myth-filled musicalization of Rick Riordan’s first Percy Jackson novel, you’ll need to read the book. Many of the show’s current attendees obviously have: Secondary characters get entrance applause. But while those young theatergoers can fill in any missing details from memory, the challenge of turning a YA bildungsroman full of epic battles and road trips and snake-haired monsters into a musical has overwhelmed the creative team. In staying faithful to the novel, they’ve wound up with a mess.
Young Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) can’t figure out why he’s such a troubled kid or why demons are assaulting him on field trips—until he’s sent to Camp Half-Blood. There, he learns that he’s a demigod, the son of an Olympian, and destined for mighty works. He must sort himself into a cabin, where he meets a tough know-it-all girl, Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), whose clear heroic qualities play second fiddle to his own. Riordan’s debt to Harry Potter is, as you can see, extreme. Those old patterns work.
In its original incarnation as a scrappy TheaterWorks/USA show, The Lightning Thief’s connection to Riordan’s book was its core strength: At a nonprofit aimed at young audiences, it was manifestly meant to trigger interest in the page. Now that the lightning’s supposed to strike on Broadway, however, this sweet, small project seems out of place. Much of Stephen Brackett’s production doesn’t work in the bigger room: It’s louder, and the monster puppetry looks solid, but the stage business—including all those fights—gets lost. The plot of Joe Tracz’s adaptation is tangled: Motivations are sometimes bizarre (a mother dies in front of her son, but he barely notices), and we never quite understand the villain or his dastardly plot. Humor might have papered over these cracks, but apart from a funny number about the terrors of bus travel in New Jersey, composer-lyricist Rob Rokicki’s songs tend to work the same rock-plaintive key.
McCarrell’s diffident Percy, with a big shelf of hair to shelter under, has a way of seeming like a shy boy always caught in the rain. Others in Brackett’s cast have gone with a hyper-amped, super-caffeinated tone to bring down their apparent ages. Ryan Knowles gives his several characters humorous touches (he plays Medusa like Norma Desmond summoning Mr. DeMille) and Stokes, like her character, deserves more. The real stars of the show, though, are a pair of leaf blowers. They’ve made the leap to Broadway with total pep and grace; when they blast toilet paper into the air, they don’t care that the air’s on 48th Street. Here we get a hint of how great shoestring innovation can look on the Main Stem: something human on Olympus after all.
Longacre Theatre (Broadway). Book by Joe Tracz. Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Directed by Stephen Brackett. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.
TIME OUT DISCOUNT TICKET OFFER:
THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL
Now on Broadway through January 5 only
Orchestra and mezzanine seats from $69 (regular price $89–$159)
Buy now and save up to $50!
Promotional description: As the son of Poseidon, Percy Jackson has newly discovered powers he can't control and monsters on his trail. He is on a quest to find Zeus's lightning bolt to prevent a war between the Greek gods.
Adapted from the New York Times bestseller The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Book by Joe Tracz. Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Choreographed by Patrick McCollum. Directed by Stephen Brackett.
THREE WAYS TO BUY TICKETS:
1. Online: Click here to buy tickets through Telecharge or visit TelechargeOffers.com and enter code: LTONY1112
2. By phone: Call 212-947-8844 and mention code: LTONY1112
3. In person: Visit the Longacre Theatre box office (220 W 48th St)
Find more information at LightningThiefMusical.com.
Tickets regularly $89–$159. Offer valid for performances thru 1/5/20. Blackout dates may apply. Not all seats are discounted. Prices include a $2 facility fee. All sales are final; no refunds or exchanges. Offer subject to availability and prior sale. Not valid in combination with any other offers or for previously purchased tickets. Normal service charges apply to phone and internet orders. Performance schedule subject to change. Offer may be revoked or modified at any time without notice. Limit nine tickets per order.