Theater review by Raven Snook
[Note: This is a review of the 2015 production. The show returns to New York City in 2019 for six performances at the Beacon Theater, March 28–31, with Chris McCarrell again playing the title role.]
Judging from the enthusiastic reactions from the tweens surrounding me, this musicalization of Rick Riordan's best-selling YA mash-up of Greek myths and modern-day adolescence is worthy of the gods. But with its campy humor, clever no-tech effects, and agreeable pop-rock tunes, it offers pleasures for mere mortal grown-ups, too.
Unlike the rotten movie adaptation, the show hews closely to its source both in spirit and story. Troubled teen Percy Jackson (Les Misérables's Chris McCarrell) discovers he's a demigod and, with a few of his new half-blood pals, embarks on a quest to prevent an all-out war among their powerful parents while also rescuing his mom from Hades. It's an episodic adventure with lots of legendary baddies along the way (the Furies, Medusa, the aforementioned god of the underworld). But underneath its fantasy trappings is a relatable coming-of-age tale about growing up and finding your place in the world—mythical or otherwise.
As such, the musical (which debuted in 2014 in a one-hour incarnation with Theatreworks USA) is best enjoyed by families with school-age kids, especially those who devoured the book like my 11-year-old. The seven cast members, though too mature to totally convince as angsty adolescents, are charismatic and energetic, and handle the required quick character changes smoothly. George Salazar earns the loudest laughs in the antithetical roles of crotchety Camp Half-Blood director Mr. D. and insecure satyr Grover, Percy's BFF. Jonathan Raviv also scores in a series of adult parts, especially prancing centaur Chiron and a super-chill Poseidon. Cutie McCarrell as Percy and the delightful Kristin Stokes (the only holdover from the previous production) as his love interest/Athena's daughter are saddled with the more serious material about absent parents, ADHD and fitting in. (If they lost a couple ballads and the intermission, it would be a faster and funnier romp, though perhaps less affecting.)
Still, the action rarely flags thanks to Stephen Brackett's sharp direction; Rob Rokicki's spirited songs; Joe Tracz's lucid book, which is easy to follow even if you don't know the novel; and the smart avoidance of special effects in favor of low-fi stage craft (leaf blowers spew toilet paper to show Percy's ability to control water; Medusa dons novelty glasses with illuminated eyes). For tween audiences, this Lightning Thief is liable to steal their hearts.
Lucille Lortel Theatre. Music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Book by Joe Tracz. Directed by Stephen Brackett. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.
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