“The gods are real, they have kids, and the kids have issues,” sings the chorus at Camp Half-Blood in the touring production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Based on the same-titled 2005 novel by Rick Riordan, this family-friendly show delights with warm musical numbers and entertains both kids and adults with sophisticated humor.
In Joe Tracz’s stage rendering, we open on Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) getting expelled from his sixth straight high school after fighting a substitute teacher who turned into a winged fury and attacked him. After a battle with a Minotaur, Percy’s mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele), sends him to a camp for fellow demigods — half-human, half-deity children of the gods from Greek and Roman mythology.
Percy teams up with Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), the daughter of Athena, and Grover (Jorrel Javier), a protective Satyr (half human, half goat, if you don’t remember your Greek myths). The three travel to the underworld to find a lightning bolt stolen from Zeus and prevent a war among the gods from destroying the earth.
Despite the heady source material, Rob Rokicki’s songs and lyrics burst through in fun, poppy numbers backed by guitar, keyboards, and drums. Most of the early songs deal with the kids' unhappy relationships with absentee parents and the necessity of facing your destiny by finding your place in the world. Director Stephen Brackett’s staging shuns the overwhelming theatrics and costumes of shows like Spider-Man and Lord of the Rings to focus on the simple story of friendship and growing up in the absence of strong parents. Puppetry by AchesonWalsh Studios ranges from silly one-offs (like handbag-held chimeras) to a glowing-eyed Cerberus (the three-headed dog), a fearful, towering Minotaur, and flying Furies.
McCarrell leads a vocally talented cast and reminds of a young Billie Joe Armstrong, with his potent rock-tenorish voice bristling with angst. Javier also plays Dionysus, and his two characters punctuate each scene with clever one-liners and hapless humor (Dionysus exclaims: “Who am I to give relationship advice? I’m also the god of alcohol!").
This show will appeal most to fans of Riordan’s book series; Tuesday’s opening saw the Merriam Theater packed with under-15s, some even in costume. But the show, which feels very short for its two-hour run time, jumps right into the story, and the often whiny lyrics will do little to engender interest (or sympathy) in those unfamiliar with Riordan’s characters or story lines. The humor yields some of the best moments, but overall, none of the songs would encourage me to replay them at home or find any lasting hook for repeated viewings.