I recently wrote on why I feel revisiting your childhood is a healthy and normal thing to do and in it, I mentioned receiving the PJO books from my grandparents for my 22nd birthday. To continue my nostalgia trip, I scored tickets to The Lightning Thief musical and attended the April 29th show at 7 p.m. As often happens after I see something I like, I can't stop thinking about it or talking about it. I thought it would be fun to do a review of the play. I am by no means an expert on musicals, but I am an avid fan of them (and probably a bit of an expert on the Percy Jackson books...at the very least). After seeing the show, I bounced my thoughts off of my friend Christine, who I attended with, and then pulled out my sketchbook to jot down my thoughts. This piece is less of a review and more of an analysis of the cast and a word-vomit of how much I enjoyed this musical.
The first thing I would like to say is that I feel the cast and crew did an amazing job with the story and the music. Though Lightning Thief was by no means a high budget play, it was done extremely well. The actors worked with the set and props to make an extremely lively stage experience. I didn't realize how small the stage was until the actors stepped onto it but they worked the space so well. The musical begins with Perseus Jackson sliding out and informing the whole audience just how much being a demigod completely and utterly blows. It was cute, funny, and a totally correct way to begin it all. "The Day I Got Expelled" draws the audience in and covers important plot points from the first book that are key to understanding Percy's character.
I wanted to really focus on the cast of the musical when discussing how much I enjoyed it. I have the most to say about the Questing Trio, but wanted to give recognition to all seven of the actors.
Chris is was the only actor I knew before seeing the show, due to his role as Marius in Les Mis recently. Chris is a 26-year-old actor, so despite knowing his talent, I was quite curious to see how he would portray Percy. I felt this about most of the cast, as the camper characters range from twelve to about sixteen. Needless to say, I was impressed with Chris. Percy Jackson is twelve with server ADD and a fierce loyalty to his mom. My key talking points for the actor's performance were that he had an amazing mother/son chemistry with the actress playing Sally, played up boyish looks with the way he smiled and moved around the stage like a preteen figuring out his body, and that he had an amazing singing voice. The way that Chris spoke played up how young Percy was, as well. He truly looked the part, especially with the dark hair that sticks up like he's constantly messing with it that Percy should have. I was more than impressed with how well Chris played Percy and would love to see him in this role again.
My very first thought about Kristin was that she was exactly how I imagined Annabeth looking. Some of my favorite fan artists do art of Annabeth when she is older and Kristin was like one of those art pieces come to life. I knew nothing about Kristin going into the show but I left it very happy with her portrayal of Annabeth. Plus, my interactions with her post-show were so cute. Annabeth is a young girl with quick wit and a need to prove herself against all odds. From the moment Percy meets her, she is a spitfire character who shocks him at every turn. One of my key points for Kristin's performance were how soft she was able to make Annabeth seem when interacting with Luke. A spoiler here, but one of the prevelant things throughout Riordan's books is how deeply Annabeth loves Luke. Kristin was able to take Annabeth from ready-to-fight to young girl with an attachment very well. I also thought that Kristin nailed Annabeth's tough-girl voice and the confident way she carries herself, while showing the longing she has to be given glory. In the books, Annabeth tells Percy her fatal flaw is hubris, and the performance I saw on stage showed that piece of her very well.
While I missed Grover's signature beanie and curly hair, I thought George did a great job playing everyone's favorite satyr. In the books, I feel that Grover is in a way comedic relief and the musical really plays that up. I felt it may have played it up a little too much, but that overall Grover was still written well. There was a solid joke about furries, which was good because Grover's lower half had to be half of a fursuit. I refuse to believe otherwise. I think George nailed Grover's nervousness personality really well, especially the way he bleated accidentally when scared or laughing. It takes a lot of talent, in my opinion, to be Grover. George has that talen. My key points for the satyr definitely included the accidental bleating, as well as the squirrel fascination and dramatic despair. George, Chris, and Kristin have an amazing chemistry on-stage and George did an excellent job with Grover's more raw moments, such as "The Tree on the Hill."
George also played everyone's least favorite god, Mr. D. I was amazed to realize this because he was unrecognizable as Mr. D. The Lightning Thief's portrayal of Dionysus was far more aggressive than lazy in how much he doesn't care, but I kind of liked that more. Mr. D. had those angry moments in the books as well. I personally think George absolutely killed "Another Terrible Day." I was blown away by his performance in that scene and every scene in which he played Mr. D.
Carrie is credited as "Sally and others" and all I can really say is hot diggity damn (no, that's literally what I wrote in my notes). Every actor played multiple roles and Carrie killed it. My friend didn't even realize Sally was played by the same actor as Silena and Charon. Carrie is an amazingly versatile actress. Out of her three main performances, I loved her as Sally the most. Apollo once said that "Sally Jackson possessed just the right combination of compassion, strength, and beauty" (The Hidden Oracle, p. 30). Carrie portrayed that Sally very well. She was soft and kind, but also willing to put up her dukes for her son. She was exuding confidence and intelligence. Then, when Carrie portrayed Silena, she was exactly how I remember Silena being in the books. She was young, flirty, and very in love with boys. Even just seeing how she acted around Luke I was reminded of something that happens in the fifth book of the series. She played teenage daughter of Aphrodite really well. Then, there was Charon, who was arguably the polar opposite of both of the women she already portrayed. Charon is traditionally the boring gatekeeper of the Underworld but Carrie was far from it. In a killer gold dress with a diva's voice, she absolutely stole the stage in this role.
Sarah Beth Pfiefer.
I've always had mixed feelings about Clarisse. She definitely improved as a character as she aged. When I saw Sarah Beth Pfiefer, my initial thought was "she's way too pretty to play Clarisse." I was only half right. The actress did an amazing job, in my opinion, of portraying the rough-and-tumble character of Clarisse. I would be so interested in seeing her in this role again, considering how much attention Clarisse is given in the second book and the character growth we see in her. Sarah managed to be a menacing bully, all while singing along with the other campers and I enjoyed seeing that. I think we did really get to see the Clarisse of the first book come to life in the play thanks to Sarah.
James Hayden Rodriguez.
If I have complicated feelings about Clarisse, you can imagine just how I feel about Luke. One thing I really enjoy seeing is POC depictions of childhood characters. James exuded that charisma I really expect to see from Luke. If you didn't already know the role Luke was playing in the story, you would have no idea. Not once did he give away the character with his acting; he acted perfectly innocent and charming. I loved James' singing voice as well. Also, Luke is supposed to be the best sword fighter the gods have seen in a long time and I was really impressed with James' footwork and the choreography for his sword fighting. I would love to James continuing in this role if I could. James also slayed as Ares, just saying. Ares will never do anything but piss me off and James did a great job bringing the arrogance and anger of the god to life.
Jonathan was exactly as I imagined Chiron and I was super excited when he wheeled on to stage. The actor portrayed Chiron and others. Each role he stepped on to stage as was truly phenomenal. When you have such a small cast, it's refreshing to see such a versatility in the actors. Chiron is supposed to feel a bit like that college professor who you can talk literature with over a cup of coffee or who lets you hide in his office when things get too stressful. Jonathan played that up very well. I was disappointed to see that he didn't have a four legged horse half, but it also would have been a hard transition for a smaller budget musical to pull off. I think the innovative galloping he did more than made up for that, even though my friend disagreed.
Wow, just wow. I absolutely loved the music for this musical. I've been listening to so much Hamilton recently that I forgot just how much I love more traditional-sounding show tunes. After watching this, I just wanted to curl up and listen to the soundtrack on repeat. I can't wait for it to be released! It was hard to pick a favorite song, but I found myself humming the tune of "Song of Poseidon" on the bus ride back to Philadelphia. Something in that song really resonated with me. If I were to base my favorite off of which one induced the most emotions in me, I would have to pick "The Tree on the Hill." Thalia Grace is an amazing character and is loved so deeply by Annabeth, Grover, and Luke. What happens to Thalia is the catalyst to so much for Luke, helps fuel Annabeth's need to prove herself, and shapes Grover's very fear of failing Percy. Of course, "The Campfire Song" was another favorite of mine. I felt it truly captured the spirit behind the inevitable war in the books. Many campers end up betraying the gods for the very reasons outlined in the song.
Overall, I found this musical to be an amazing portrayal of a favorite series. I loved the allusions to the later books, the chemistry between the actors, and the way they managed to keep the spirit of the books alive. The books are cute and fun but also serious. I still cry reading them because I am a big baby. I cried multiple times during the musical, as well. It definitely beat the movie, but that's not too hard. For an off-Broadway play, this has to be one of my absolute favorite stage adaptations. I would have loved to see just how much this cast could have succeeded with a Broadway budget but they still did phenomenally. Sure, it wasn't perfect. There were certain scenes I really missed. For instance, the water park scene where Percy and Annabeth's crushes on one another really began. Or when the gang actually does get stuck in the Lotus motel. The latter was important to later plot points in other books, but I feel the musical did a great job when a familiar girl tells Percy that she and her brother arrived at the Lotus Hotel in 1939 (Bianca and Nico). I think seeing Mt. Olympus could have been nice or just getting more of Ares' absolutely douche-y behavior. To me though, these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of how well done the musical is.
I want to just issue one last thank you to the cast of crew of the musical. You brought a beloved childhood story to life. I am so attached to the stories I read as a kid and you all did an amazing job. Thank you.