There might be a good children’s show lurking inside The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. If there is, however, it’s buried pretty deep. The show’s great moment of wonder is when you start pondering just how this turkey got on the road.
Some musicals unfold too quickly, racing to the dénounement with barely a moment for scenes to breathe. This version of The Lightning Thief has the opposite problem: the show is too long and too large. Most of the songs are extremely forgettable, filled with banal lyrics; the tepid applause from the opening night audience seemed mostly directed at well-remembered moments from the source book by Rick Riordan. At the end of the day, a few talented performances and a couple standout songs don’t redeem this awkwardly exploded show.
It’s always important to keep audience and the intimacy of a venue in mind. The Lightning Thief musical was originally written as a 1-hour show, which shows – you could cut half of Act I with no problem, while Act II has a much clearer polish to it. The choreography also seems designed for a radically more intimate venue – again, no surprise considering that the full-length show debuted at the 299-seat Lucille Lortel Theatre. Cut away some of that excess put the audience up-close-and-personal, and the show probably would feel much better than it does.
Rick Riordan’s bestselling Percy Jackson novels were often hyped as the next Harry Potter-type series, which led to some aping in the screen and stage adaptations of The Lightning Thief. This wasn’t helpful; this show is best when it revels in the weird and bizarre, like the use of toilet paper cannons to represent ocean waters (again, something that has a whole different feel in a smaller venue). The best fight scene is actually the opening harpy attack, where a combination of puppetry and lighting really bring out the menace.
Unlike some other properties, The Lightning Thief doesn’t seem designed to try and entice new viewers. Its primary audience seems to be younger fans of Riordan’s young adult novels, for whom the paint-by-numbers walkthrough of the novel’s plot points is a welcome review of a bedtime story. Some of its better points for neophytes include Ryan Knowles’ lyric baritone and prancing as the centaur Chiron, the songs “Oracle” and “Killer Quest”, and Jorrel Javier’s moving performance in “The Tree on the Hill” – a genuinely sad, touching, even tearjerking number in the middle of Act II. It’s not that there aren’t some good moments and ideas in this show, but you have to wade through a great deal of filler to get there.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical plays through June 22 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul, MN.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.