BWW Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF at the 5th Ave is Fun and Frothy ... If You're Twelve
Dear Readers, I am not the intended audience for "The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical", currently playing at the 5thAvenue Theatre, and if you're over the age of twelve and a musical theater aficionado like me, I suspect it's not for you either. However, if you are indeed a pre-teen or younger or a parent looking for something to thrill your kids or maybe even give them an introduction to theater, this may be perfect for you. Because of that, we're going to have two reviews in one here. One to point out why I think it appealed to kids and one to explain why I couldn't leave the theater fast enough.
If you're unfamiliar with the Rick Riordan young adult novels on which the show is based, or the subsequent couple of movies, the story is pretty simple in that it's been done before, and better. Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) is a teen who's constantly in trouble and keeps getting kicked out of schools. Raised by his doting Mom (Jalynn Steele) and his abusive Step-father, Percy soon finds that the reason he has trouble fitting in is that his absent biological Father is actually the God Poseidon. So, he ends up at Camp Half-Blood, a school for neglected offspring of the Gods, and meets Annabeth (Sarah Beth Pfeifer), daughter of Athena, Grover (Jorrel Javier), son of Pan, and Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez), son of Hermes, who attempt to help him find his place. But soon Percy finds he's being chased by all sorts of mythical creatures and accused of stealing Zeus' lightning bolt. So, Percy, Annabeth, and Grover set off on a quest to find the real culprit and save the world from a war between the Gods.
Now, I've seen the movies and enjoy them for what they are, a passable fantasy with engaging characters. And if you're of the younger set, this adaptation from Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki will probably keep you entertained. The rock score is thumping, the bad jokes and puns fly about the theater like a demented demon, and the staging is bright and flashy with things being hurled into the audience. But all of those things coupled with bad storytelling and songs that move nothing along and often don't even say much are why I was so miserable.
It's a musical, so let's start with the songs. As I said, they do not advance the plot (what little has been retained from the books, but we'll get to that). Instead, they give the characters the chance to complain about how much their lives suck, repeatedly. Most of the songs are so full of angst and bitching that you never get to know anyone beyond stereotypical, petulant teen. And the lyrics, when we could decipher them over the thumping band, amount to very little but vague cliché. Case in point when Percy, once again lamenting over his being misunderstood, sings,
"And all I need is one last chance
To prove I'm good enough for someone
I'm good enough for someone
I'm good enough for someone
I'm good enough for someone"
Someone? Who? Can we get less clear or lazier with this writing? And if you're a fan of the story then I'm sorry to tell you that they gloss over most of it. In fact, the all-important quest and point of the story is reduced to a montage, where they don't defeat the monsters, they simply avoid them in order to get to more songs of angst. "What's that? If we go in there we'll be lulled under a spell and stuck for hundreds of years? Well let's not go in there then." My hero. OK, enough of that, let's have a disco number about an elevator to hell.
Then there's the staging. The direction from Stephen Brackett, lighting from David Lander, and sound design from Ryan Rumery are right up in your face like a used car salesman on crack. The actors mug to the audience, confetti and toilet paper are hurled at us (toilet paper I might add that was supposed to be Percy's amazing water powers somehow) and lights that repeatedly are aimed at and blind the audience. I guess they think if we're dodging things and blind and deaf, we may not notice the lack of story. Really, someone needs to explain to Mr. Lander that he only needs to light the people ON stage and the only benefit I found from being bombarded by the lights was that it charged the day-glow element of my watch so I could see what time it was.
And then there's the acting, although as overblown every moment is, I think it would be fairer to refer to it as clowning. And not a good clown but a scary, birthday party clown. Everyone overacts making sure no moments are genuine. Javier is the most egregious at it as in one scene where he kept nodding his head furiously as he was talking to a squirrel. I assume because they thought it was funny since it flipped his hair back and forth. And I can't even fathom the choice of Ryan Knowles playing Hades as an over the top Paul Lynde. McCarrell plays Percy not as a hero or someone who's learning something on a journey (as the journey is neglected) but either as a naïve child or super flamboyant. The only one who had an honest moment was Pfeiffer in her act two song but is quickly relegated back to the world of bad puns and confusing sword fights.
No, this show is not for me. It's for the hordes of kids in the audience who were having a great time (I overheard one remark at intermission, "This is AWESOME!") and their parents who get to buy them souvenirs. So, in that respect the show is a success. But for me, a childless adult who enjoys good musical theater I have no choice but to give this one a great big NAH with my three-letter rating system. Honestly, one of the worst things I've seen all season. But take your kids. They'll love it.
"The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" performs at the 5thAvenue Theatre through April 28th. For tickets or information contact the 5thAvenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.