Growing up, I read as much as I possibly could. Any book that I could get my hands on I would devour as quickly as I could. I read a wide variety of genres that fell under the YA category. Some were cringe-worthy, even as a kid, but others captured my interest and took me on a journey. One such series was the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series by Rick Riordan. I fell in love with the world Riordan had built that revolved around the famous pantheon of Greek gods and their demigod children inhabiting a summer camp outside of New York City called “Camp Half-Blood.”
All of that being said, I was intrigued when I heard back in 2017 that a musical based on the property entitled “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was doing a short, month-long run Off-Broadway. I kept saying I would get around to going and seeing it but before I knew it the show was gone and I had missed it.
That is until earlier this year when the show announced that it would be embarking on a nationwide tour, including a stop at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia for a week. As it turned out, lead Chris McCarrell, who plays the titular Percy Jackson, had fallen in love with the role and decided to return for the tour. The rest of the cast was composed of bright, new enthusiastic faces.
I went into the show relatively blind. I had forgotten the general plot of the first book, which the show covers, and I hadn’t listened to the Off-Broadway cast recording.
The show ended up impressing me a lot more than I was anticipating. It kicked off with “Prologue/The Day I Got Expelled” and I was worried at first. I was expecting a show that was somewhat self-aware and tongue-in-cheek but it seemed like it was maybe going to miss that mark. However, as the show played out and we were introduced to more characters and given some more time to let the personality and wittiness of the production and cast shine through, it grew on me quite a bit.
Everyone in the cast aside from McCarrell and Kristin Stokes, who played fellow camper and daughter of Artemis, Annabeth, had multiple roles. Jorrel Javier, who played a half-goat/half-man named Grover and Dionysus, the Greek god of wine definitely left an impression. He especially shone as the grumpy god-turned-camp counselor who hated the campers as much as he needed a drink. Ryan Knowles, who played the legendary centaur Chiron, as well as Hades and Medusa, was the stand-out for the show in terms of comic relief though. His malleable voice allowed him to blend into a variety of diverse characters, selling each one and never failing to bring a roar of laughter out of the audience.
McCarrell brings a lot of energy to the character of Percy, who over the course of the show finds out he is a son of the greek god of the sea, Poseidon, and he should have never been born. On top of that, his mom is missing and presumed dead and he has been framed with stealing Zeus’ great lightning bolt. His personality and vocal range bring Percy to life and it shows this is a role that he cares deeply about and relates to on a sincere level. I could feel the moments when he was having fun on stage and then was hit by the ones where it all came crashing down and Percy was desperate and fearful.
The budget for the show was nothing extravagant and it showed, but the show did a good job of using its cheapness to better its charm. Near the beginning of the show, Percy and his class are touring a museum and there is a single pedestal with a glass case on top containing some artifact. Percy’s teacher asks to talk to him by the sphinx and the rest of the cast scatters as one turned the pedestal 180 degrees to reveal a small statue of a sphinx.
The set design was relatively simplistic with a scaffold taking up the whole backstage with a spray painted concrete wall behind it. The band was split on either side of the stage atop scaffolding as well, which was a fun bit of design. This also served to bring some of the charm of the authentic and stripped down staging.
Though the show didn’t grab me at first, I was sold by the time we reached “The Campfire Song,” which featured the campers lamenting their god parents who they felt had abandoned them. There was something very sincere and relatable about this song. What proceeded was a fun, adventurous show that had many fun and interesting moments. Though the music wasn’t necessarily the strongest, the writing was strong enough to carry the rest of the show between the songs that stood out.
It managed to bring its own spin and stay true to the intent and soul of the source material in a great way and I would say to definitely bring the whole family when it stops in your city.