‘The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical’ gives Greek mythology an electrifying encore
Jim Moster | Thursday, January 17, 2019
Satyr. Tartarus. Kronos. The concept of millions of children readily embracing the archaic lexicon of Greek mythology seems ludicrous, but fantasy author Rick Riordan has accomplished the impossible with his “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. Perhaps inspired by recent book-turned-musical hits such as “Hamilton” and “Fun Home,” composer Rob Rokiki and playbook author Joe Tracz bring Riordan’s modern take on Greek myths back into the spotlight with “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”
“The gods are real,” a colorful cast informs the audience in the musical’s opening number. Indeed, the epic of Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) begins with his discovery that he is a “half-blood,” or a child resulting from the union of a Greek god and a mortal. Percy’s affectionate mother Sally (Carrie Compere) sends him to the demigod haven Camp Half-Blood, but not before she is whisked away to the underworld at the hands of the Minotaur. Grieving from the loss of his mother at his new summer camp, Percy meets Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), the clever daughter of Athena, and learns that his best friend Grover (George Salazar) is a half-goat creature called a satyr. Although senior camper Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez) warns Percy that many half-bloods never determine the identity of their godly parent, Percy is soon claimed as a son of Poseidon. The rest of the story follows Percy, Annabeth and Grover on a quest to retrieve Zeus’ stolen lightning bolt and prevent total war amongst the gods.
Nearly every song in “The Lightning Thief” relies on spoken dialogue to flesh out the nuances of Riordan’s mythological universe. The seven-minute opening track, “Prologue/The Day I Got Expelled,” derives its hefty length from frequent pauses for character and world-building exposition. The playful piano and guitar riffs of the opening number quickly establish the musical as pop-rock, although a myriad of musical genres appear throughout the soundtrack. Acoustic guitar and harmonica pleasantly complement Salazar’s soft voice in “Drive,” and the punk song “Put You In Your Place” is dominated by aggressive electric guitar. This diversity of sound makes each track a pleasant surprise and provides the musical with consistent forward momentum.
Thankfully, a musical about 12-year-olds defeating bloodthirsty monsters and saving the world doesn’t regard itself in an excessively serious manner. In the grandiose funk number “D.O.A.,” our heroes discover that the entrance to the underworld is located at the aptly-named D.O.A. Records. In “The Campfire Song,” the demigods of Camp Half-Blood lament that “things couldn’t be worse when your parents run the universe.” Annabeth sings that Athena has renounced gluten, and another half-blood complains that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, steals all of her dates.
However, “The Lightning Thief” doesn’t deliver its lighthearted gags at the expense of emotional depth. “Good Kid” perfectly encapsulates the tidal wave of anguish that overpowers Percy following his sixth school expulsion in six years, the abduction of his mother and the outbreak of rumors claiming that he stole Zeus’ bolt. In “The Tree on the Hill,” Grover expresses the self-doubt and lingering sorrow he feels regarding his failure to protect a half-blood from the wrath of Hades. Melancholy songs such as these balance out the fast-paced soundtrack, adding depth and believability to the musical’s characters.
Despite the laurels heaped on by this adult writer, “The Lightning Thief” undoubtedly targets younger audiences. Older fans will appreciate the inevitable nostalgia that comes with experiencing a beloved franchise in a new medium, but simplistic messages such as “normal is a myth” might better resonate with kids coping with exclusion by classmates or a dysfunctional home life. Older fans may also remember the widely criticized Percy Jackson movies, but have no fear ─ the musical is faithful to its source content and even transcribes several direct quotes from the book into song lyrics.
As the cast of ragtag demigods launches into a national tour, they might inspire a new generation of family-friendly musicals that appeal to all ages through humor and musical diversity. Although the Greek gods exist only in fantasy, one can get a taste of the divine by checking out the soundtrack of “The Lightning Thief” and joining Percy Jackson on his show-stopping quest.