The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

July 18, 2019

in Plays

Musical
Book by Joe Tracz
Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki
Adapted from the book The Lightning Thief (2005) by Rick Riordan
from the original TheaterWorks USA Production

Directed by Stephen Brackett
Music Director Wiley DeWeese
Choreographed by Patrick McCollum

Huntington Theatre Company
July 17-28, 2019

With Izzy Figueroa (Grover/Mr. D), Ryan Knowles (Chiron and others), Chris McCarrell (Percy Jackson), T. Shyvonne Stewart (Clarisse), James Hayden Rodriguez (Luke), Jalynn Steele (Sally), Kristin Stokes (Annabeth)

Ryan Knowles in 'The Lightning Thief'

Ryan Knowles
in “The Lightning Thief”
Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

A musical set in a summer camp filled with the children of Greek gods.

I haven’t read the Rick Riordan narrative upon which this musical is based, but, from all appearances, it seems to want to lure kids into learning something about Greek mythology by adding some contemporary stuff and making it radiate Harry Potteresque mysteriousness.

That narrative idea seems kind of cute insofar as it gets kids to learn about the Greek gods, and, at the same time, derivative. The very central image of the lightning bolt which emblazons the stage as one enters the theater is so deeply reminiscent of Harry Potter’s forehead that it’s hard to avoid noticing.

Add to this odd mixture of classicism, knock-off supernaturalism, and trendy contemporary kid-narrative a litany of songs that are so vividly typical of the current generic Broadway type, and you have the not-so-magic sauce for this staged version of The Lightning Thief.

For those who have the knowledge of the book or are sitting close enough to the stage to actually decipher the fairly intricate goings-on, the narrative might make some sense. There’s a lot of hidden metaphysics about the neglectful parent gods up in their Olympian heavens and the challenge of the real world the half-breed kids must face. The story adheres in many ways to Greek mythology, but does so with a kid-angry edge that boosts the quite straightforward I can do it despite those jerks theme that seems to fuel many trendy contemporary psychogenic musicals.

These hints at significance are embellished, in this production, with lots of lights. There are strobes of various sorts, and spotlights in blue and in white some of which circle the characters onstage and some of which reach out into the audience. Add to that a programmer’s heaven of combinations for the smaller string-lights on stage in multiple colors and endless formations and you begin to get a sense of the visual stimuli which frame the other theatrical goings-on with bombast.

Amid all of this it is possible to discern a few appealing performances.
Ryan Knowles, notably, in a variety of roles, is hilarious. He has a basso profundu which he uses to great effect, and he makes a fabulous prancing centaur. Whenever he is onstage, things light up. As Percy Jackson, the central character, Chris McCarrell has an innocently appealing gee whiz charm.

Apart from the lighting, which seems to take central stage at almost all points, other aspects of the staging are quite diminished. There’s not a lot to the set, the choreography is quite limited, and the blocking is such that one gets the cumulative sense of multiple characters milling about onstage.

The audience was packed with kids and young adults who seemed to enjoy it a great deal. Many of them also seemed to know the book and take the goings-on quite seriously, though I did hear some murmurings about not quite picking up the details of the narrative which were none too clear either from the lyrics or from the execution.

It seems that the Huntington Theatre has explored this summer, outside of its usual repertory, the inclusion of this outside production for a relatively short run. This production, which to all indications seems to have emerged as a TheatreworksUSA creation in 2012, has come in under independent auspices and not a Huntington Theatre production of the usual sort. TheatreWorksUSA, based in New York City, seems to produce a fairly large array of kids’ shows that go on tour around the country; the current production is not identical to that original TheatreworksUSA production and has been mounted independently and was sent on tour starting in early 2019.

– BADMan

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