BWW Interview: Ryan Knowles of THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL at Ordway Center For The Performing Arts
It's summer in Minnesota but that certainly doesn't mean the theatre scene in the area is slowing down. The newest national tour to hit the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts is The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. The show has been described as a musical with "one foot in Harry Potter and another in Dear Evan Hansen by the Chicago Tribune. This adaptation is actually based on a book series by Rick Riordan.
I was able to speak with Ryan Knowles of the show. Knowles plays the role of Chiron and others within the production. In the past, Knowles originated the role of "Buddy" in the national tour of We Will Rock You, the Queen musical along with various other tours including How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Todrick Hall's OZ: The Musical and various credits on Off-Bway.
BB: A standard question I always like to ask is have you ever been on a big tour like this before and also have you ever been to Minnesota?
RK: This is my fifth national tour. I think at this point I've played every state in the union except Alaska and Hawaii! I love Minnesota. The last time I was here was with the tour of "We Will Rock You" at the Orpheum in Minneapolis. Minnesota audiences are amazing. And there's no end of things to do in the Twin Cities.
BB: This musical is based on a book series that is geared towards youth and young adults. What makes this show entertaining for that younger generation but also older audiences as well?
RK: The books focus on a tale we all can appreciate. Percy is a kid who feels like a weirdo; that he doesn't belong or fit in. Which one of us can say we've never felt like that? The message of the show is "what makes you different makes you strong." It's about embracing what makes us all different and special. And if that isn't a worthwhile message for this day and age, I don't know what is.
BB: So you play Chiron and a few others in the show. Tell me about who he is and how he fits into Percy's world.
RK: I play 9 characters in total (with 25 quick changes), so I'm a busy boy both on and backstage. Chiron is my main character. He's the mentor to Percy. A strong, wise, guiding force for all of the demigods at Camp Half-Blood. He's a bit of a rock for the kids in the show. Additionally, I play Poseidon in the vein of Jeff Lebowski, Medusa, and a Paul Lynde-inspired Hades, among others. It's such great fun to inhabit so many different characters and make them distinct from one another.
BB: I remember hearing about these books when they came out but never got a chance to read them. Did you read it in preparation for the role and if so, how does it translate from a book to the stage? If you didn't, was there a reason for that? I know sometimes actors like to stay away from things like that too earlier on in the process so it doesn't taint their portrayal of a character.
RK: I hadn't read the books when I got the job but once I started rehearsals, I read the first book (the basis for our show). We have a very dedicated fan base and I felt I had to understand the source material to do the audience and my characters justice. That said, I didn't let that constrain my ideas or creation of any of the characters. The script and score of our show is incredibly faithful to the book. That's why Percy Jackson fans love our show, it brings to life everything they loved about the books.
BB: What's it like to be performing in a show that is not only based on another piece of work but is rooted in Greek mythology? The source material must be so rich to get into!
RK: I've always loved Greek mythology. The stories, the characters...truly, they are the basis for all stories that came after them. So, to be bringing so many Gods and Monsters to life 8 times a week is a lot of fun.
BB: How much of that source material played a role in learning your character and during the rehearsal process?
RK: Quite a bit. Between the book, and the mythology itself, there is no end to the inspirations to be found. Whether it was researching the movement of horses for my walk as the centaur Chiron, or examining how best to make my limb movements resemble snakes as Medusa, there was never an end to the things that can inform the characters.
BB: Since the production has Greek gods, there has got to be some incredible special effects in this show. Anything that really wowed you during the rehearsal and tech process without giving away too much?
RK: Yes. There are some spectacular practical effects in the show. What's cool about our production is we like to say that "you can see the seams." We want you to know you're watching theatre. We want you to use your imagination. This isn't CGI. It's far more inventive than that. So, come prepared to see some cool puppetry, nice effects, and toilet paper used in a way you've never seen before.
BB: What is the best thing you've learned about yourself as a performer in this show?RK: That the time I've spent in my career developing diverse characters and voices has been well spent. I just love that I can do such an amazing show with such amazing characters that play to my strengths as an actor.
BB: Anything else you want to add before audiences see this show in St. Paul?
RK: Don't miss this show for the world. Come and play with us.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical will be at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts June 18 through June 22. Tickets are available at www.ordway.org.