A blockbuster franchise is something that any creator of media deeply craves, be it a multi-picture film series or a hit television series. The success can be parlayed into a myriad of other forms of media such as video games, convention appearances, or even live stage adaptations. One of the most recent examples here is the book series “Percy Jackson & The Olympians,” which spawned two big budget feature films, a video game adaptation, and even spin-off series and various graphic novels. The most recent trip to this wellspring of content brings it to the Broadway stage in the form of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical”.
Percy (Chris McCarrell) struggles with ADHD and dyslexia as well as just overall adolescent social awkwardness. After a crazy experience on a school field trip that gets him expelled from his fifth school, he finds out that he is actually a demigod, a product of his mortal mother Sally (Jalynn Steele) and a Greek god. After finding this out, he spends the summer with others like him, all with various feelings of isolation and separation anxiety with most of them not ever having met their absent celestial parent. After running into his old friend from school Grover (Jorrel Javier), who turns out to be a satyr and his old Latin teacher Mr. Brunner (Ryan Knowles), who is secretly a centaur, he befriends fellow camp attendees Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez), who is the son of Hermes and Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), daughter of Athena. Once Percy is found to be the son of Poseidon, he’s charged with retrieving Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt form Hades in the Underworld so as to not incite a war between the gods that could be cataclysmic to all life on Earth.
This production is a real mixed bag: technically it’s quite impressive, with extremely innovative usage of led lighting and quite inspired wardrobe design (particularly in the Underworld sequence), but the inconsistent performances and the songs themselves are where the real issues lie. McCarrell (the original Off-Broadway Percy) never comes off as particularly likeable, with an abrasive personality and almost over the top nasally vocal delivery that gets EXTREMELY grating VERY quickly. Javier provides remarkable comic relief in multiple roles as both Percy’s closest friend Grover and camp director Mr. D. The absolute gem of this production, as is Knowles, whose unmistakable baritone manages to weave uniquely into every character he plays without coming off as hack or one note. The songs themselves just have no real meat on their bones, with no one tune really striking me as a stand out signature tune that I would find myself humming to later or clamoring to buy the cast recording to hear again.
Is it fun? Yes. Is it particularly memorable? Not really. It might be a great way to introduce a younger generation to Greek mythology and musical theatre, but it leaves a bit to be desired in the long run.