We all have childhood staples that we can't imagine growing up without—movies, paperbacks, and TV shows which have left a mark on us as kids and now have a special place in our hearts. Among those classics is Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson series, which follows the adventures of Percy Jackson, a demigod whose story blurs the line between Greek mythology and life as we know it. Since the first book, The Lightning Thief, was published in 2005, the best–selling series has inspired many a teen's love for novels and Greek mythology. Riordan's words have once again been brought to life through the on-stage magic of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Drawing from The Lightning Thief's plot, this musical brings its audience back to the world of mythological adventure through a mix of music, acting, and song.
Written by Joe Tracz and composed by Rob Rokicki, The Lightning Thief goes beyond just being an onstage rendition of a best–selling novel. It is the independent remaking of a classic coming–of–age storyline—a masterpiece in its own right. Featuring gods, heroes, monsters, and much more, the show condenses the book's fictional world and distills it into a two–hour live performance without detracting from any of its original meaning. As Chris McCarrell, the lead actor playing Percy Jackson, notes, there are two main narratives in the show: one a story of empowerment, the other a discussion on "inheriting a world as young people and either accepting that world or working to change it".
At the beginning of show, McCarrell explains, Percy "feels very disempowered... by the things that make him different, the things that he struggles with, which is learning disabilities and dyslexia, and just not having a ton of friends and a single parent home life." Over the course of the musical, Percy goes on a quest in search of Zeus' lightning bolt with Annabeth, a fellow demigod, and Grover, a satyr. The three friends find the lightning bolt, unveil a scheme to frame them for the theft, and return to camp as heroes. Yet the point of show is not about finding the lost lightning bolt. Rather, McCarrell continues, it is about Percy regaining trust in himself by coming to terms with his own difficulties, wherein "he realizes, looking back, that all that made so much sense into him realizing his true power." The Lightning Thief is captivating because it mirrors much of our own teenage and preteen experiences. For McCarrell, Percy's revelation at the end of the musical is a representation of something a lot of us don't realize until much later in life, that "...all the things we struggled with, are really important to becoming the people we are today."
Towards the show's end, McCarrell says, Percy faces a second dilemma: "to either hide from the world that adults have created before him, or to go out and to really fight for the world that he believes, that he wants to see." In the musical, gods are symbolic for the external forces that we as younger individuals are often powerless against: parents, teachers, and the institutions that we often feel are set in stone. McCarrell notes, the gods are "...reckless, they haven't really created an environment where their kids are going to thrive in. So that can be related to so many situations in present day times... it's the idea of generations dealing with the world that they are given and how they react to it." In many ways, The Lightning Thief is a musical that excels in its ability to take a long–winded story, peel back the decorative elements of plot, and expertly convey its core themes through the immersive experience of a live show.
The Lightning Thief also benefits from its off–Broadway setting. According to McCarrell, with lower stakes than a larger production, off-Broadway allows for actors themselves to pitch–in when solving the issues of stage craft, for example when Percy has to pull out a pen that turns into a sword during the show. He notes, "there's a lot more group problem solving with the technicalities of the show, and when you come together as a group and solve them, it injects into the show this sense of play and character and personality that you can actually see in how we do stuff onstage... The stage craft takes on a personality of its own, because we all help to make these moments happen."
No matter if you are a fan of the original book series or just a musical lover trying something new, The Lightning Thief captures both sides of the spectrum. Despite adhering to the same plotlines and themes as the book, this live performance refreshes the decade–old story through a blend of stagecraft, music, and acting. While we might not be the children we once were, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical will no doubt leave its mark as a childhood staple in the hearts of younger generations to come.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical performing live in Philadelphia, PA at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts from January 22nd to 27th.
Tickets available at: http://www.lightningthiefmusical.com/#tickets