BWW Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF:THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL Soars Into Tampa at Straz Center
How does a book so grounded in popularity in Young-Adult fiction, that was then translated to a 2 film series, transition its magical storytelling to the stage? These and more are the questions I asked myself upon entering Morsani Hall Tuesday evening for the opening of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. As a fan of the book series, and having seen the films a few times, I was skeptical at best. Upon finding my seats and purusing the program I found 10 actors making up the subsequent company of the show before me. Little did I know that each character minus Percy, would be doubling as several other characters throughout the night. At a talk-back immediatelty following the show, one actress said she had upwards of 21 costume changes throughout the show which can be an astounding feat. Having little knowledge of the music in the show I sat back and was ready to embrace the adventure. Usually I find myself listening to the Cast recordings prior to seeing shows, however with this one I wanted every surprise available to me.
The cast enters the space in contemporary clothing fitting for the show, which would make you think they were just like you and I. With a lightning bright strobe flash and a kabuki-drop reveal our 2 hour adventure was underway. Set to a energetic pop-rock score with a book by Joe Tracz and music/lyrics by Rob Rokicki the audience was alive with energry as the beautiful harmonies in "God's Are Real" filled the room. The songs which sound a lot similar to music reminiscent of Green Day and Good Charlotte the show was filled with brutal teen angst in a world where everyone is misunderstood. At the helm of the misunderstood is that of Percy Jackson himself. Chris McCarrell was angsty in all the right ways, and made to be socially awkward in his presentation. Percy is unsure of who he is and where he belongs in the world. Having grown up not knowing his father he lays his trust in the headmaster Chiron, however not is all as it seems. Chiron later reveals to Percy that he is a Centaur, bound by mythical legs and a tale Chiron goes from rolling about in a wheel chair to kicking about with horse legs and a tale.
Chris McCarrell's voice carries the weight of the angst this show desires and his voice soars high and above the others. Vocals in his solos such as "The Weirdest Dream," and "Good Kid" truly display his voal power and that he is a force to be reckoned with. Chiron played majestically by Ryan Knowles has a booming voice, and it makes you think the voice of God is commanding your attention. His character acting is spot on and very enjoyable to watch. Other standouts in the cast were James Hayden Rodriguez as Luke the Regal Villan who you hate to love and love to hate, the only pitfall here was that Luke is often portrayed as a much stronger villan, and I wanted the plight between Luke and Percy to be more spiteful and bound in agression. T. Shyvonne Stewart was a standout as Sally, Percy's mother her vocal prowess was grounded in soul and you really felt her plight. Kristin Stokes was exciting as Annabeth and her vocal prowess carried her solo lines to new heights.
While things about this show worked, there were some faults lying beneath the surface of this show. First things first with a "Spectacle" type show, one must not try to hard to observe said "spectacle." Percy finds out in the show he is the son of Posiedon, upon doing so to fight off enemies the use of water is attributed, through the use of unique lighting and toilet paper cannons, the effect though unique fell flat for me. I understand using actual water is a little hard to advise, however this moment felt weak and not as powerful as one would expect from a half-blood coming into his own. Other moments that were somewhat lackluster had to be the vocals, there were moments where Clarisse seemed to shriek at her highest out of range decibels. It made me wonder if the key was written as such, or it was just a character choice. If one is familiar with the books and the film, once Grover reveals that he is a Sader you almost never see his pants again, and he maintains the Sader persona. I was left scratching my head why the choice was made to put him back in his pants after the reveal. It almost felt like an after-thought and was almost a disconnect for who the character truly was.
The fight choreography was dismal at best, I felt no force behind the fights and it left me wondering how believable could this be made to look, there was no real follow-through and it made me feel like I was watching a bad bar fight, or an altercation on a playground in which no true winner was percieved better than the other. Its about connection to the moment and there was no connection here,and for me that moment was flat. You know that moment when you're watching an after-school special? What if you filled said special with angsty teenagers and choreography that just seemed misplaced. As misunderstood as Percy was to the world he lived, the choreography left me scratching my head. It's one thing to pull back difficult choreography but something entirely different when the choreography felt dumbed down and left to be desired. As I watched people around me falling asleep, and then notice upon the end of intermission they never returned I was left wondering where an audience for a show like this lies.
Though the music was exciting at times, and the Actors did everything they could to the extent of the show, it makes me wonder was this show just dealt a rough go? Sometimes Directors are gifted a piece of work that is riveting through and through, and other times a Director is handed a "fluff-piece" for Spectacle. These are the times when an imagined idea can be taken from "fluff" to new heights with the right turn of the wheel. This however, on a "Spectacle" standpoint achieved what it set out to do, be entertaining at best. Its hard to find the heart, and the meat of the story in a "Spectacle" piece and this is one instance that rings true.
I commend the actors and all involved for achieving the "quest" they set out on, and that was to entertain even if for just a small period. I'm sure down the road I'll listen to the cast recordings, and I will see this show again somewhere down the line. I just wonder if it needs more tuning to reach its fullest potential. Thrill us with the plight, entertain us with song, and make us gasp and feel the strife in each fight scene, for then may you achieve the ground to soar from. For now I bid a fond farwell to the Gods of Mount Olympus and the plight of those who reside at Camp Half-blood. The true quest is to ignite the spark inside all of us, for we each have the ability to carry a piece of the lightning bolt inside us all when we are moved by a magical piece of work, but as for now the light is dim, and I look forward to seeing where this could reach in the future.
Photo credit: The Straz Center