The Percy Jackson series is without doubt one of the most beloved children’s and young adult franchises of this generation, and for good reason. The original series by Rick Riordan, titled Percy Jackson and the Olympians, spans seven books as readers follows the life of teen misfit Percy Jackson and his discovery of his true heritage as a demigod–a kid born with one human parent and one Greek god or goddess parent. Life is tough for “halfbloods,” as they are called, not quite fitting into the real world and always in danger from the mythical beasts that seek to destroy them. Percy Jackson and the Olympians proved to be so popular that they’ve spawned the Heroes of Olympus sequels, as well as the offshoot Magnus Chase and The Trials of Apollo series.
So it’s no small wonder book-writer Joe Tracz and composer/lyricist Rob Rokicki saw potential musical material in this highly successful franchise teeming with relatable characters and exciting lore. The show was originally created as a one-act musical produced by Theatreworks USA, but the musical became such a hit that a full version was very quickly realized and premiered in New York for a limited run early last year. On April 4, 2017, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical opened Off-Broadway with a cast of just seven, thanks to good reviews and strong word-of-mouth from fans of the franchise.
The show follows the plot of the first book, also titled The Lightning Thief, which opens with a young Percy Jackson reliving the moment his life was changed forever in a dramatic fight against his teacher, Mrs. Dodds, a monster in disguise (The Day I Got Expelled). Later, after a series of disturbing events surrounding his mother occurs, Percy finds himself at Camp Half-Blood, a supposed safe haven for other demigods like him (The Minotaur/The Weirdest Dream). Here he is introduced to a handful of other campers who claim godly parentage (The Campfire Song), eventually discovering his own heritage as a son of Poseidon. Unfortunately, this makes him a prime suspect in the disappearance of the mighty Zeus’ lightning bolt, and he becomes a target for both Olympus and the mythical beasts that are hunting him down. Accompanied by the spunky Annabeth, eager to prove herself as a worthy daughter of Athena, and Grover, his goofy best friend/satyr, Percy sets off on a journey across the country to return the lightning bolt before the gods start an all-out war with each other (Killer Quest!).
Although dazzled upon hearing about the combination of two of my favorite things–Percy Jackson and musicals–I admit I was hesitant to listen to the original cast recording released in July lest it turn out to be similar to the movies, which are notoriously criticized by fans for not keeping true to the spirit and world of the books. Happily, I can report that this version of the Lightning Thief is exactly the Percy Jackson adaptation fans wanted all along, with the added bonus of a wonderful musical score.
Everyone’s favorite demigods Annabeth Chase (Kristin Stokes) and Percy Jackson (Chris McCarell) appear alongside best-buddy Grover (George Salazar) in the Off-Broadway production.
The show does an excellent job of balancing all the key moments found in the book in the space of a concise two-act musical, in addition to tossing in just the right amount of extra jokes and references for die-hard fans of the series. The score by Rob Rokicki is very contemporary in style, mixing in a variety of power ballads, heartfelt duets, and catchy ensemble numbers. Especially fun is the hint of folk and guitar twang in songs like Drive and The Campfire Song that emulate songs non-halfblood campers are liable to sing around the fire this summer.
As the main character, it’s no surprise that Percy gets the best song in the whole show with Good Kid, a simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting piece that Chris McCarell absolutely nails. “I swear I never stole anything/I swear I never hurt anyone,” he sings, almost pleading for the audience to believe him. He goes on, “I swear, I swear that I’m a good kid/A good kid, who’s had a bad run.” Annabeth, too, gets an anthem in My Grand Plan, though hers is one of defiance as she sets out to prove to herself and everyone else that she can survive in the real world.
Simply based on the cast recording alone, The Lightning Thief musical encompasses everything a Percy Jackson adaptation should include–a delightful mix of humor, adventure, and earnest emotion wrapped up in a musical of mythical proportions.
The Lightning Thief Musical. http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com/#home
How This Duo Is Adapting The Lightning Thief Into a New Musical. Playbill.com. http://www.playbill.com/article/how-this-duo-is-adapting-the-lightning-thief-into-a-new-musical
First Look at The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Playbill.com. http://www.playbill.com/gallery/first-look-at-the-lightning-thief-the-percy-jackson-musical?slide=1