Thursday, January 10, 2019

Review: The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson Musical)

There is a new musical in town, kicking off its North American tour.  It's based on the best-selling book series by author Rick Riordan: Percy Jackson and The Olympians. (which sort of sounds like a rock band, and this is a rock musical) The musical has some very exciting bits, and has some moments that are well done, and is worth seeing (with a couple of caveats)  Read on to find out more.

I had read all five of the books a few years ago, and enjoyed them a lot.  There were two movie adaptations made, but they did not get good reviews, and I never got around to seeing them.  I entered the musical hopeful that they would pay fealty to the great story and character arcs that Riordan had developed. And they did!

Although you don't need to know very much about the story to see the musical, it does help.  The story features a teenager who is not sure what's going on because weird things always happen to him, His dad is MIA, and kind of mysterious, and he suddenly gets thrust into a large situation when he realizes that the Greek gods are real, and that he is the half-son of one of them, and that he's been accused of stealing Zeus's lightning bolt.  He goes to a camp on Long Island Sound, discovers he has powers, and meets other kids in the same situation (half-bloods) ,and he and his friends go on a series of adventures as they drive across the country to find Hades (who naturally lives in Los Angeles), manage to defeat the odds and survive against all kinds of adversity.

Here's a television spot they created for the show.

The Minotaur on stage.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The story is followed pretty faithfully in the musical, which was produced in part by TheatreWorks USA, which has a long and storied reputation for adapting kids stories into high quality touring productions.  This one is no different.  The cast of six do pretty amazing work as they tell the story, creating monsters, (A Minotaur, a Furie, and Medusa all feature prominently), and of course the Gods.   The puppetry and stagecraft are very well realized, and the characterizations are right on.  (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT: I nearly fell out of my seat when Hades appears, the actor doing a pitch-perfect imitation of actor Paul Lynde.  Perfect Voice Casting!)

I really liked the energy of the production-- the actors all do physical characterizations, and except for Percy, play multiple characters.  They all have good voices and use them well.  They are young and energetic, and the pace of the show is brisk.  There is a fair amount of humor in the show, and I think that it tells the story very well.  (My son hadn't read the books, and could tell what was going on all through)

The play ends with the clear possibility of a PART TWO-- just like the book.  I am wondering if they are considering giving the second book the same treatment?

Percy and his friends try to escape the Gods. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

I did mention I had two caveats above:    I wasn't clear exactly why they made this as a musical I think an adventure show with music would have served the story and the production better, with one or two songs perhaps.  The music was all serviceable, but a little pro forma (following the structure  of the musical). I couldn't identify a single song afterward-- they were all songs that moved the plot forward, but not one was a song that felt like an emotional breakthrough that wasn't connected to the plot, and it's hard to imagine any of the songs outside of the musical itself.

Here's a video of one of the songs (and the process of making it), I like it a little better now that I've heard it three times, but during the show I didn't really groove onto it.  Your mileage may definitely vary on this-- maybe it will resonate with you and your kid.

There's lots of exciting fight scenes in the show.   Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The other thing about this show is the quality of the set design/costumes.  While they got the job done, and were in someways inventive, they felt a little low rent.  They seemed out of place in the lush environs of the Oriental Theatre.  I don't think I'd have felt this way if the show had come to a more modern theatre like the Harris Theatre.  But as part of the Broadway series, it was harder to overlook.

Still, the Percy Jackson musical is an exciting and well-told story, mostly inventively staged and with some great comic bits.  Well worth seeing if you are a fan of Percy or a fan of young adult musicals.

Some toilet paper some blue lighting, and some handheld blowers make the stage erupt in an inventive manner.
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The show plays in Chicago through Sunday, January 13, and then moves on for a full North American tour, with stops in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Worcester, Toronto, New York, Sacramento, Detroit, Cheyenne, Ft. Lauderdale, and tons of other places.  For the full schedule visit

In Chicago, individual tickets are currently on sale and range in price from $25-$80 with a select number of premium seats available.  For more information, visit

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