Review of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    October 17, 2019
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    Percy Jackson has a problem – well, a few, actually: he doesn’t ‘fit in’; his home life is a mess; and he doesn’t know who his father is. Daunting challenges to say the least. Too young to make the rules, Percy is yet also too old to avoid the rules being imposed on him. Relief arrives in the shape of a Satyr, a Centaur, and sundry other ‘misfits’ gathered at Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for children who are half human, half god.

    Adapted from the novel of the same name, which resets the story of Perseus to the modern day, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical gives Perseus, aka Percy Jackson, a 21st century sardonic edge. Unfortunately, the show has been overwritten, trying to stuff too much into 2 ½ hours, leading to a chaos that outstays its welcome pretty quickly at the Longacre Theatre.

    In the spirit of “everyone gets an award for showing up,” this musical seems to partake of the philosophy that the only way to reach children is to package something in loud noise, bright colors and forced laughter. I don’t know why the creators thought that a generation that has been raised on Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and an endless stream of superhero movies would not understand a fantasy dystopia where individuals with superhuman powers fight to save the Earth. I appreciate the value of recontextualizing a story, but to dumb down already dumbed down material seems excessive.

    Rob Rokicki’s lyrics are often clever, and Joe Tracz’s script does have a coherent structure and some really good jokes. However, in the booming echo of the show’s volume you would never know it. The band is too loud and the singers even louder. In addition, the actors have been directed to behave almost manically, playing myriad characters, rushing their lines and throwing themselves around the stage to make sure we all Get the Message. Does the director not trust the material? Does he not trust the actors? I mean, clearly no-one trusts the audience, but I would hope that in the development process someone, somewhere would have sat back in his seat and said “Enough!”

    The Act I finale trio “Killer Quest” is one of the better musical numbers. Percy and his new friends Grover and Annabeth sing of finding purpose in their lives. In pursuit of that goal, the trio embarks on a quest to find Hades, which is apparently located in Los Angeles (ain’t it the truth!) Alas they get stuck in New Jersey – yes, a nightmare in the making – inspiring another good trio and some diverting comedy. And squirrels.

    Chris McCarrell conveys an ease as Percy Jackson, the misfit boy who doesn’t see his own worth. McCarrell moves easily among layers from teen angst, grief and disbelief to sly humor. James Hayden Rodriguez as Luke has his own moment as well, although his characters are more uniformly angry. Sarah Beth Pfeifer has some fun as Clarisse, although she has been saddled with doing too many things at once, including kicking ass, when she sings. Although Kristin Stokes sings throughout the show, you only really get to know the character of Annabeth in her song “My Grand Plan.” Alas, as with all of the other performers, Stokes has been directed to belt endlessly, instead of allowing her pretty voice to relax and just sing.

    Jorrel Javier has a very winning quality as Percy’s satyrical sidekick Grover. Unfortunately, Javier has been directed to smother his lightness of being and excellent singing voice when he appears as his alter-ego Mr. D – who shouts nonstop and overplays his jokes to the point of annihilation. I was so grateful when Mr. D exited stage and sweet, funny Grover returned.

    Ryan Knowles steals scenes as a variety of characters, including an hilarious walk-on as a beach bum, taking his time to deliver one-liners with just the right touch. His is the best voice in the show – a delicious resonant baritone that carries easily across the footlights. As befits her name, Jalynn Steele steals everyone’s thunder as Charon, driving the ferry to Hades. What she really wants to be is a star! Half Tina Turner/half Donna Summer and all shimmering diva, Steele busts out with a welcome ‘watch me’ energy in the show stopper “D.O.A.”

    Lee Savage’s set of mobile scaffoldings keeps the story moving forward. Its multipurpose design is especially effective when it comes to evoking smaller spaces. Oddly enough, though, it is David Lander’s lighting design that does the best job of telling the story. In addition to creating mood and defining space with the stage lights, Lander ties everything together with simple changes in sequences of LED lights that line the set.

    Most of the audience applauded enthusiastically, but to me The Lightning Thief does not live up to the hype. My apologies to a talented, enthusiastic cast and creative staff, but I’m afraid I found the show unendurable. It is 2 ½ hours of derivative, unmemorable music, all sung at the loudest volume possible. If I wanted my ears to bleed I would go to a Stones concert. At least I’d get to see Keith and Mick.

    (Photo by Jeremy Daniel)

    "Here’s an idea for a Broadway musical: An awkward boy with an absent father and an overwhelmed mother gets involved with friends in a dubious scheme that spins out of control and almost undoes him. Is it Dear Evan Hansen? If only. Alas, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a pale patch on the earlier show and a failed attempt to board the teenage fantasy-angst train... Based on the popular 2005 novel by Rick Riordan, it is both overblown and underproduced, filled with sentiments it can’t support and effects it can’t pull off."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "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."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "Rob Rokicki’s pop-heavy score is real kid’s stuff that still manages to be more sophisticated than the music and lyrics for recent Broadway hits like Mean Girls and The Prom. His mix of soft rock, disco and anthems should enthrall anyone not raised on Stephen Sondheim."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "Arriving on Broadway following a national tour for a limited run (timed to the upcoming holiday season, natch), The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical has lost all of its charms while gaining a dramatic uptick in ticket prices. What seemed inventive and clever in the confines of a small off-Broadway theater feels utterly wan in its current incarnation."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter

    "The packed narrative may be child’s play for fans of Rick Riordan’s 2005 book — and there were plenty of enthusiasts in the audience on a recent night at the Longacre Theater, where the musical is having a limited run — but others will find the show and the bare-bones production simply myth-begotten."
    Frank Rizzo for Variety