3 Stars out of 4
If you high tailed it to the over the top ornateness of Broadway in Chicago’s delightful Oriental Theatre on Randolph near State this cold week, you would settle in for a pop rock musical featuring a half blood, brunette young man with powers that get him in trouble, who gets sent to a program for kids like him to teach them to use those powers, where he teams up with a really smart girl and a quirky protective sidekick and they have to go and save the world against a dark and powerful character. Harry Potter the Musical???? NO WAY, it’s the Chicago premiere of Off Broadway hit The Lightning Thief: the Percy Jackson Musical kicking off a national tour!
If you have read the books, you will adore this fast past and really funny romp through all the major plot points. If you have not read the books, you will rock out to the anthems, laugh hard at the jokes, go home to your Edith Hamilton to review all you thought you knew about Greek Gods, and await the sequel. There are differences between Harry and Percy: in Jackson’s case he grows up knowing his mother and he is able to recover her from Hades. In this epic tale, none of the kids at Half Blood Camp know their parents well: they are all teens with issues and apparently if you are the offspring of a god and a mortal, you have to be claimed by your God Parent via a sign. Percy, played here by the marvelous creator of the role Chris McCarrell, comes of age before our very eyes, transitioning from a kid who constantly gets expelled from school into Poseidon’s powerful teenaged son. He is accompanied on his quest to return Zeus’s stolen Thunderbolt by Annabeth, daughter of Athena ( played by Kristin Stokes who was born to play this smart badass accomplice) and Grover, the Satyr, (Jorrel Javier who also plays Mr. D, the salty and hostile Dionysus who leads Camp Half Blood). The scene stealing star of this compact cast that plays multiple roles is chameleon Ryan Knowles who morphs from Latin Teacher Mr. Brunner with a pen that becomes a sword, into camp leader and Chiron, a Centaur with a sassy horse tail and trot, into seductive Medusa and into Hawaiian shirt wearing Dude, Poseidon. And there is the majestic Jalynn Steele who plays mom to Percy, and brings down the house in her”others” role songs. This versatile, talented cast has a gritty industrial loft set by Lee Savage to play on. Thankfully, no touring compatible and now too often done projections for this pop/rock work: its black light graffiti, movable scaffolding and junk yard parts just like the streets of NYC to bring alive this tale of demigods on a road trip Quest from New York to Los Angeles. The lighting by David Lander is straight out of the blockbuster rock and roll playbook so be prepared for strobes and revolving bursts. The show borrows the stunning toilet paper ocean from Blue Man Group to fantastic effect, and there is a gorgeous glitter explosion. A Demi God’s Quest needs spectacle and this show has it. The book by Joe Tracz and music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki are solid, if suffering from Adaptation-itus—where you try to adapt a book/movie property into a theatre show and have to prune so much it hurts, however, Director Stephen Brackett keeps us moving so we don’t have time to miss our favorite parts. The characters are there and the story is deftly told.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical reminds us that old stories are always good ones, and we all need an updated, breathless and fun tale of gods and heroes to remind us what we are made of in our dark times. The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson is playing ONE WEEK ONLY through Sunday January 13, 2019 Broadway in Chicago’s Oriental Theatre 24 W Randolph. You can preview the show by streaming the full cast album of the score on Spotify. For more information and tickets go to www.BroadwayInChicago.com