“The Lightning Thief” musical is a clear passion project for diehard fans of Rick Riordan’s best selling “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. As I am one of these diehard fans, I absolutely adored the show. With a cast of just seven people, the cast takes on the responsibility of portraying many characters as well as creating big moments in the show with very few bodies on stage.
Chris McCarrell plays Percy Jackson, the titular hero and the capturer of hearts. McCarrell is able to capture Percy’s essence so well, from his body language to the way he delivers his lines. Percy thinks so lowly of himself at the start of the musical (and the novel), but he grows more confident over the course of his quest, a characteristic of Percy that McCarrell handles so well.
The original Riordan novels were made into movies, and the older casting of the actors made our beloved hero seem like a brand-new human. However, McCarrell is able to tap into his inner adolescent and portray Percy as the 12-year-old he’s supposed to be. It probably helps that the rest of the cast is also played by adults who put their heart and soul into each character they play.
Kristin Stokes is positively ethereal. Stokes plays Annabeth Chase, a role model for young girls everywhere. She’s unapologetically ambitious, trying hard to prove her value and her worth. Stokes stole every scene she was in; if she was on stage I was looking at her, enraptured by her performance and depiction. Her vocals are stellar and, as dance captain, her execution of the choreography was strong.
Jorrel Javier might just have the two hardest parts in the show, Grover and Mr. D. Grover is the quirky best friend of Percy who is perfectly loyal and incredibly scared of danger. Mr. D is a crotchety camp director who is actually Dionysus, the god of wine. Both of these characters use dramatic dance moves and solos to tell their story. Javier is also the only member of the cast not in the original off-Broadway cast.
These three cast members are the ones featured on every poster, in every trailer, and for good reason, as they have the most recognizable and consistent characters. However, the other four cast members should not be overlooked.
James Hayden Rodriguez plays both Luke Castellan and Ares, the two characters that betray Percy in the end. As the world’s biggest Luke Castellan apologist, Rodriguez’s performance brought me to a breakdown. He obviously played Ares well too, but the way he played Luke was exactly how I imagined. Rodriguez projected all the pent up sorrow and anger in Luke beautifully.
Sarah Beth Pfiefer has some of the toughest vocals in the show, yet she was able to nail them in the live performance. She plays Clarisse, Katie Gardner, the Vienna boy’s choir and (though silent) Thalia Grace. Clarisse is the daughter of Ares, so most of her lines are delivered in the middle of a fight sequence, but she hit the same notes live that she did in the cast recording. She also makes an appearance as Thalia Grace, an old friend of Annabeth and Luke that died too soon. Her acting skills show most here, as the emotion on her face was visible even from the top of the balcony.
Ryan Knowles and Jalynn Steele have various smaller roles including Chiron (Knowles) and Sally Jackson (Steele). They have features throughout the entire show, each time with a different character. Both of them commit fully to each person they play, switching so well that the audience might forget it’s the same actor.
Moments of the show that I really loved were the emotional beats, moments where the audience gets to explore the inner workings of the characters. McCarrell solos for “Good Kid,” a.k.a. Percy’s breakdown song. He’s the only cast member on the stage, and the choreography is practically non-existent, but it’s one of the most captivating moments of the show. McCarrell is emotional, melodramatic, a display of pure teen (I guess technically tween) angst.
“My Grand Plan” live was a religious experience. This track is Annabeth singing about her dreams, her grand plan for life, what all of her hard work will become. Stokes isn’t the only person on stage, she’s not even the only character speaking (though it’s mostly her), but she’s impossible to look away from. This was the first song from the musical I ever heard, so to finally see it live took my breath away.
To be fair, I am severely biased in favor of the show. These are characters and stories that I’ve loved for so long that the show could’ve been thirty seconds of the cast waving, and I would’ve still been awed. However, I can see why the musical is not for everyone. The show features a cast of just seven people, six of whom are Broadway debuts. This smaller cast size means that the show lacks big musical or choreographed numbers that most musicals contain. The cast is also full of newbies, and while their talent is huge, the lack of experience is noticeable in terms of connections with the crowd.
Parts of the show seem cheesy, almost like a high school production of a play. Sets are practically non-existent, and the depictions of monsters feel like a cheap Halloween costume. In “D.O.A.” fans meet “DJ Cerberus,” as in the three-headed dog who guards the Underworld. Here, a cast member comes out in a silver shirt and a plastic three headed mask. Later in the song, lead singer Charon references the Vienna boy’s choir, played by two puppets and Sarah Beth Pfeifer.
In “Put You in Your Place,” the gang plays a brutal game of Capture the Flag. In the novel, Percy douses Clarisse with water using powers he inherited from his father, Poseidon. In the show, the water is depicted by a roll of toilet paper. The paper is placed in front of a leaf blower, spewing out at Clarisse. This motif is then repeated in “Son of Poseidon” when Percy fights Ares, though this time McCarrell, Stokes and Javier all hold two leaf blowers and turn them to the audience, covering the orchestra seating in the paper.
Though this style isn’t for everyone, I appreciated it. “The Lightning Thief Musical” started as a very low budget production, clearly only written into existence because playwright Joe Tracz and lyricist Rob Rokicki love the story. Viewers get to see the very roots of the show, before anyone even imagined of being on Broadway. In fact, I don’t think they changed anything from their off-Broadway shows, to their tour, to their current run.
If you’re a diehard fan of the show, I highly recommend taking the trip to New York before the musical’s 16-week run is over. The show represents the novel and the characters so well that even Rick Riordan loves it! However, if you’re in it for a large scale production rather than the storyline, this is a Broadway show you can definitely skip.