The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a rare musical that combines all of the magic of an epic fantasy with the fun of a children’s show. This musical hits the sweet spot, perfectly catering toward kids of all ages. Laugh-out-loud funny moments mix perfectly with realistic emotional turmoil and a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat. With a fantastic cast and a production that uses blackbox theater techniques and mainstage lighting design, this show will blow you away.
The musical follows the plot of the first book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, also titled The Lighting Thief. Percy Jackson starts the show by explaining how he got kicked out of his fifth school in six years when his substitute teacher turned into a monster and tried to kill him. As a kid with ADHD and dyslexia, school has always been tough, but having to battle a teacher with a sword just wasn’t on his agenda for the day. Through a series of challenges, Percy discovers that the Greek gods are actually real and his absentee father is Poseidon, the god of the sea.
At a summer camp known as Camp Half-Blood, Percy meets other half-god, half-human kids that have gone through the same kinds of struggles. As the company explains in the opening song, “the gods are real and they have kids—and those kids have issues.” With his best friends Grover, the half-goat satyr, and Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, Percy goes on a quest across the country to retrieve Zeus’ missing lightning bolt.
If you’re a fan of the book, you likely already know that the movie adaptation was less-than faithful to the source material. Luckily, the musical is the complete opposite. It’s faithful to the book in terms of content and emotional connection. Even the segments cut for time are cleverly hinted at during the song “Drive.”
The acting is superb. The show manages to portray a wide cast of characters with only seven actors. It simply wouldn’t be possible without the immersive performances of the cast, who must often change costumes and characters every time they go offstage.
The most impressive of these transformations comes from Ryan Knowles. He plays a number of characters including Percy’s mentor, Chiron, and Medusa. Knowles gives each character he portrays a very distinct physicality and vocal quality so that he is virtually unrecognizable in each new role.
The lighting design is like a character of its own. Throughout the show, the use of backlights and spotlights adds drama and movement, making the world of the show seem bigger than the stage.
The biggest downside of the show is one that could be easily solved. The lyrics of the songs are fairly important to understanding the plot of the show, but the hard-core rock band often is too loud to hear some of the lyrics. Many of the lines from the show’s most emotionally poignant song, “Good Kid,” are virtually unintelligible due to the sound of the orchestra. Later, a few lines of the song are sung again by another character in what could have been a very intense moment, but instead was a barely-audible throw-away bit. The balance of the microphones could likely be adjusted to fix this issue, but as it is now, some of the shows most heartfelt moments are sadly drowned out by the music.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a rock-n-roll romp that will delight fans of the book and newcomers alike. It’s a fun, musical smash that sticks closely to the New York Times bestselling book and captures its goofy sense of humor without loosing any of its emotional resonance. Some issues with sound balancing may make it a little harder for newcomers to the story to catch all of the subtleties of the plot. But whether you’ve read every book or are just learning about Camp Half-Blood for the first time, this show is enchanting.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is playing May 10-12 at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts (255 S. Almaden Blvd.) before moving on to Dallas, Texas. Visit the official musical site, lightningthiefmusical.com, for more information on the tour and its next stops. Tickets range $38 to $128.
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Daniel