If you haven’t heard of Percy Jackson, the kids in your life probably have. He’s a seemingly normal kid, if troubled. Kicked out of school, with ADHD and dyslexia, Percy Jackson is the 12-year-old who’s just trying to do his best.
That is, until his substitute math teacher turns into a monster and he learns he’s a demigod: one human parent, one godly parent. Greek godly parent. Turns out Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon. His dyslexia is because his brain is hardwired for reading Ancient Greek. His ADHD is his battle reflexes telling him not to stand still.
Originally, Percy was the protagonist of Rick Riordan’s 2005 best selling novel The Lightning Thief and its five sequels (as well as an ensemble member of later spin off series). The story combines modern elements—when he first gets his sword, Percy makes lightsaber noises—with classic Greek mythology. Selling millions of copies, Percy Jackson is the reason many kids are acing their Greek mythology unit.
Now, Lightning Thief (and Percy) are on the theater stage, and it’s the same story I knew and loved from nearly 15 years ago.
The show opens with a high energy rock number “Prologue/The Day I Got Expelled” telling the audience the Greek gods are real. You know, those ones you were supposed to learn about but you weren’t paying attention? And they have plenty of kids. Those kids now have some serious problems, and this is their story.
Where the show slightly falters is in its massive task of exposition. While this isn’t a problem if you go into the show already having read the book, it leaves nonreader audience members playing catch up for much of the first few scenes. The high tempo of the first song doesn’t help this problem. You either have to pay close attention to those first lyrics or do some research before watching the show if you want to catch everything.
However, I can’t entirely discount this musical choice as it does align with Percy’s experience of the events: Everything happens so quickly, and he also struggles to make sense of it.
Chris McCarrell’s Percy is a standout. He captures the exact nervous/excited/over-it/into-it energy of the middle school boy who can’t seem to win no matter what he does. Everything from his physicality (constantly fidgeting with his sweatshirt) to his annunciation (“What is happening?”) are spot on. I also appreciated how his struggle to maintain concentration was a part of the actual text of the lyrics. It isn’t just implied. It’s hard and you experience it with him. Most importantly though, McCarrell shows Percy’s heart. As any fan of the books would know, that’s the most important part.
As for the plot, I am here to tell you that longtime fans do not need to worry. After being burned by the infamous movie adaptation, I, too, was a little apprehensive going into the adaptation. However, the book, written by Joe Tracz of Be More Chill has the same tone as Riordan’s prose. Funny, adventurous, and yet sincerely grounded in the character’s journeys, Tracz gets the story.
The real triumph of the Percy Jackson series was its affirmation of the childhood experience: You might be different and the world might be against you, but that doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. As the cast sings in a battle cry of a finale, “Bring on the monsters; bring on the real world.” The characters of Rick Riordan’s world—and those in the audience watching them—can defeat anything that stands in their way.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical at the Ordway through June 22 has that same heart even if it is beating to a new rhythm.