Post image for Theater Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL (North American Tour)

by Lawrence Bommer on January 10, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


Holy Hades! It’s an all-purpose victim’s ur-dream of getting even: Every misunderstood teenager secretly imagines he was born better than life lets him show (off). Take that tonic/toxic delusion further: Supposing the Greek gods had secret kids — why not believe that you’re a demigod, not an “impertinent” misfit mutant? Even better, you alone can end a battle among your unacknowledged superpower relatives that could well engulf Earth!

Rick Riordan’s bestselling 2005 young-adult adventure (that became two so-so feature films), The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a sold-out 2017 Off-Broadway spin-off, now on a national tour debuting at Chicago’s Oriental Theatre.

Cult fans of this fantasy will find this two-hour chamber musical — only seven performers — faithful fun, as Joe Tracz’s adaptation captures the highlights. It’s blatantly effective at catering to adolescent rebellion, merrily morphing into a modern mythology, a pagan comeback to put Christianity into limbo. You too can be a very cool Greek god and upgrade your parents in the process.

Despite having dyslexia and ADHD, Percy (short for “Perseus”) Jackson (an irresistibly charismatic Chris McCarrell) discovers from a field trip gone wrong that he is in fact the long-lost and virtually abandoned son of the sea god Poseidon. The other kids at Camp Half-Blood, a Long Island half-way summer spa run by Dionysus, are the progeny of Athena, Hades, Aphrodite, and Ares. Here being a reject is the ultimate golden ticket.

Someone has stolen Zeus’s lightning bolt. So civil war between brother deities Hades, Poseidon and Zeus is about to rage from Mt. Olympus to the Big Apple, then cross-country to a weirded-out L.A., where a showdown settles old scores.

Along the trek of their “Killer Quest!,” which is all about winning respect from clueless parents, the displaced deities encounter the stone-chilling Medusa (disguised as Dorothy Gale’s “Auntie Em”), the fey ferryman Chiron in Tartarus (not to be confused with “tartar sauce”), a Minotaur, a Fury, a schoolmaster satyr, a Chimera, and the amnesia-dispensing Lotus Hotel — ingredients in the show’s signature song “The Weirdest Dream.”

Proving their worth despite the treachery of one of their fellow-godlings, the plucky semi-immortals (Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele and Kristin Stokes) prove that kids rule(!) — so “Bring on the Monsters.”

If the synopsis seems shortened, it’s because by show’s end this overly clever and overplotted Lightning Thief feels like a chutzpah-fueled attempt, like Les Misérables, to reduce a novel to a sit-down “reading.” Like much here, that’s an impossible pipe dream. Far from slowing down the fever pace, Rob Rokicki’s 20 soft-rock songs, peppily performed by director Stephen Brackett’s overachieving sextet, pump up the volume and raise the stakes.

That’s not a bad thing when the fate of the universe hangs in the balance. But there’s a lot of artificial neo-classical urgency pulsating through these manufactured crises. This theatrical one-upmanship makes much in this musical feel contrivedly chaotic. Too much eagerness to please can backfire badly. Targeted to the point of pandering, The Lightning Thief nonetheless hits those marks, much as the X-Men series found its disrespected and underappreciated “outcast” audience.

Still, for all the swagger of these mythical millennials, you only wish that voting for President was as exciting as swinging a pen sword and belting out ballads against grownups who want to “Put You in Your Place.”

photos by Jeremy Daniel

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
North America tour
presented by Broadway in Chicago
at the Oriental Theatre until January 13, 2019
for tickets, call 800.775.2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago

tour continues
for dates and cities, visit Percy Jackson

Leave a Comment