BWW Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF MISFIRES DESPITE ITS PROMISE at Huntington Theatre Company
How much one enjoys THE LIGHTNING THIEF, The Percy Jackson Musical, currently at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston through July 28, may correlate directly with one's familiarity with the source material. On opening night, the large number of teens and tweens in the audience - who were clearly anticipating the appearance of every monster, plot twist and special effect - were laughing, cheering and clapping with unbridled vigor. However, the adults whom I queried at intermission, who had no such prior exposure to the immensely popular Rick Riordan children's book series that mashes up teen angst with Greek mythology, were considerably less enthralled.
The disparity could partially be attributed to the uncomfortably loud volume of the highly electrified four-piece rock band that all but obliterated the rapid-fire lyrics of many songs. Lead actor Chris McCarrell as Percy Jackson was unfortunately the cast member most victimized by the badly balanced sound. And when the full ensemble sang together, forget it. All but the simplest repeated phrases were inaudible. As a result, the fast-moving plot points and suddenly appearing and disappearing mythological characters were indistinguishable. My companion and several other folks around me said they were lost.
This surprising technical difficulty - the show has been on tour since January after an acclaimed limited Off-Broadway run in 2017 - is really unfortunate, since THE LIGHTNING THIEF turns the liabilities of several troubled misfit teens into assets when it is discovered that they are the much neglected "half-blood" children of Greek gods. Percy, especially, is the most beleaguered and therefore the most heroically endowed, given that he is the son of one of the Big Three rulers inhabiting Olympus. As such, he is charged with undertaking a dangerous quest, that of finding out who stole Zeus's prized lightning bolt and returning it to the angry - and thundering - god of the sky. If successful, Percy can restore peace to the human world. If not, Ares will have succeeded in engaging Zeus, Hades and Poseidon in a vengeful World War III.
From their summer haven at Camp Half-Blood on Long Island (!) to the entrance to the Underworld located in Los Angeles (where else?), Percy, his sidekick Grover (Izzy Figueroa) and tagalong Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) encounter the Three Furies, Medusa, a motorcycle-riding Ares, and a revivalist preacher wannabe in Hades. They predictably vanquish all monsters and restore the balance of nature, but not before they discover some empowering truths about life and themselves. In the show's finale, "Bring on the Monsters," they each realize that they do, indeed, have what it takes to live in the real world.
The cast is uniformly strong, moving through the dense storyline with unflagging energy and delivering the ample comic moments with panache and brio. McCarrell, Figueroa and Stokes are very appealing dynamic heroes, combining vulnerability and determination quite believably. Everyone else pulls double, triple, and even quadruple duty, changing from monsters to humans to gods and back again with breakneck speed and precision. At times it's head-scratching to contemplate how on Earth they're able to change masks and costumes so quickly. Most notable among the ensemble is Ryan Knowles, who morphs through a countless array of colorful characters, including the aforementioned Medusa and Hades - plus, in a cameo appearance, the hilarious surfer dude Poseidon.
The very larger-than-life nature of THE LIGHTNING THIEF requires eye-popping special effects. Since this is a low-budget TheaterWorksUSA tour, however, sets, costumes, and mythical magic suffer. Comic visuals substitute for awe-inspiring pyrotechnics. Again, for those familiar with the source material, an active imagination may suffice to fill in the blanks. But for the uninitiated, it may not be clear what is happening when a Minotaur pancakes Percy's mother and sends her off to the Underworld.
As of this writing, Boston is the last stop on the current tour of THE LIGHTNING THIEF. For fans and their families, it may be worth making the trek to see this best seller come to life on stage. For others, a trip to your local library may be more satisfying. The book by Rick Riordan is a page turner. The musical is more like a head spinner.
(Photos by Jeremy Daniel)
Book by Joe Tracz; music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki; adapted from the book, The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan; directed by Stephen Brackett; choreographed by Patrick McCollum; scenic design, Lee Savage; costume design, Sydney Maresca; lighting design, David Lander; sound design, Ryan Rumery; new puppetry designs, Acheson Walsh Studios; fight direction, Rob Kinter; hair, wig and make-up, Dave Bova; production stage manager, Veronica Aglow
Cast in Alphabetical Order:
Grover/Mr. D, Izzy Figueroa; Chiron and others, Ryan Knowles; Percy Jackson, Chris McCarrell; Clarisse and others, T. Shyvonne Stewart; Luke and others, James Hayden Rodriguez; Sally and others, Jalynn Steele; Annabeth, Kristin Stokes
Performances and Tickets: