Review: 'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Storms Off-Broadway With A Splash

Review: 'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Storms Off-Broadway With A Splash

The musical adaption of Rick Riordan's best-selling novel is an instant hit with fans.

Picture this: Chris McCarrell slides down to the edge of the stage, hair disheveled and lips curled into Percy’s infamous, troublemaking smirk, sits eye-level with his audience, and sings his opening line with a cutting combination of snark and weariness: “Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” When “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was first announced in January, fans of the series were both excited and understandably anxious, worried that Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki’s production might indulge in the abounding inaccuracies the movie adaptions’ interpretations of the characters and plots offered. Once McCarrell’s Percy runs onstage, spinning sharp, playful cheek into every line and making faces at the audience throughout the show’s opening number, “The Day I Got Expelled,” though, all fear of a repeat of those mistakes floods away. His entire performance as Percy completely captures every aspect of Percy’s personality, from his anger to his gentle compassion, from his sarcastic and confused sense of humor to his often self-deprecating dejection. His characterization makes its way into his posture and into every word of dialogue, and got so deeply to the core of the character that I found myself crying as he leaned precariously from the second level of the set’s scaffolding during “Good Kid,” despite having heard the song on repeat since its release when the show was first announced.

This deep understanding of the source material extends to every part of the musical, from its characters to its DIY aesthetic and set design to the way it moves its plot. George Salazar’s performances as Grover and Mr. D were equally amazing, the former hitting every aspect of the character’s combination of excitement and nerves, and the latter inducing countless laughs throughout the show. Kristin Stokes, who has only gotten better since the show’s first run back in 2014, portrays all of Annabeth’s pride and drive while still emphasizing Annabeth’s sharp-witted, high-spirited side. Every character Carrie Compere plays is astounding, though the standout is her interpretation of Sally, who is kind and resilient and every bit an echo of the text as the rest of the show. Jonathan Raviv captures Chiron and Poseidon hilariously, Sarah Beth Pfeifer somehow manages to move seamlessly from playing Clarisse to playing woodland creatures, and James Hayden Rodriguez’s Luke is instantly charming. Every character is carefully crafted to match their novel counterpart, an aspect of the show that even extends to their interactions with other characters. The fact that this show goes out of its way to show moments like Luke, Annabeth, and Grover sitting together and talking in the background of a scene, a familiar girl in a floppy hat and braids telling Percy that she and her brother arrived at the Lotus Hotel in 1939, or Silena joining Clarisse’s capture the flag team all show just how involved with the text not only the actors are, but the show is as a whole.

This attention to detail is also found in the dialogue and plot, as a good amount of the lines are lifted directly from the books. A large part of the movies’ failure to please fans was in the fact that they used the base the books created and created their own stories out of them, completely deviating from what the heart of the series was actually about. Many will be happy to hear that this musical tells the story of “The Lightning Thief” from start to finish (which shouldn’t be that hard a feat, but apparently is). It's important to note that the show isn’t just a word-for-word reading of the book, though. It uses the musical form to its advantage to tell a loyal and yet unique version of the story, craft its own hilarious sense of humor, and use music and action to emphasize some of the characters' most important traits. I’ve written before about how a musical is the perfect medium for adapting the Percy Jackson series because of the ability it offers to fluidly blend inner monologue into the story through song, and this musical used that power to its full extent. Since Percy’s actual dialogue in “The Lightning Thief” is normally a bit more biting and angry than the humor found in his narration (See: Percy’s comical opening chapter leading up to his first line of dialogue, “I’m going to kill her.”), the musical is able to use its tone to create the light-hearted atmosphere of Percy’s narration and provide him his inner thoughts through song, both while staying true to the way Percy genuinely speaks. The show’s more stylized moments, like Annabeth and Luke’s arms forming Thalia’s tree as she sings quietly and Grover tells Percy her story with tears in his eyes, (an effect that had me crying for the third or fourth time that night), Annabeth’s choreography during her “I Want” song, “My Grand Plan,” being incorporated into her battle training with her dagger, and Luke singing a twisted reprise of “Good Kid” during the musical’s climax, all take scenes and characters from the novels and heighten them through the unique qualities and opportunities theater offers to create emotions and images that cannot be crafted on paper alone. Additions and changes to the story and moments deleted from the book are done with care, especially for the tone of Percy’s narration, from new scenes like Annabeth teaching Percy how to hold his sword to alterations like Cerberus becoming a DJ for Charon’s incredible introduction to the Underworld. The creators of this show clearly understand the advantages they have working in theater and know how to use them to tell their story effectively.

The entire experience of the show, from the way the theater is absorbed by the sound of thunder overhead in the time before the show starts to the orchestra being left a mess of confetti and toilet paper once it ended, absolutely got to the heart of Percy Jackson’s unique tone, story, and characters. The show is still in previews, so it may change a bit before its opening night on April 4th, but from what I’ve seen, I completely trust this production with the story and cannot wait to see what’s in store for the musical once it solidifies into what I’m sure will be a spectacular final product that will be loved by fans for years to come.

Cover Image Credit: Playbill

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7 Moments In Life That Would Be Better If It Were Motion Picture Perfect

Have you ever watched a movie that is so much more intense because of the music playing the background?

Have you ever watched a movie that is so much more intense because of the music playing the background? And haven’t you wished you too could have movie effects and a soundtrack playing during your life? You haven’t? Oh. Well, in that case, I’ll share seven moments when having my life “motion picture perfect” would have made it that much better.

1. When your crush walks by and everything is slow motion.

Every girl ever... I don't care how old you are.

2. On a long drive in the middle of a road trip and you are staring out the window dramatically.

The sad song of leaving a place you loved gradually grows as you drive further from the town (or if you were lucky, a summer love).

3. When you just “diss” someone and walk away in slow motion with everyone watching in awe.

BOOM mic drop and you walk away with explosions going off in the background.

4. When you kiss someone for the first time.

*Queue up Taylor Swift Sparks Fly.

5. Waking up first thing in the morning and expecting a tray of breakfast by your bed and imagining you’re wrapped up in silk sheets, like any regular princess right?

C’mon we all have hoped to wake up and have the same life as Princess Mia Thermopolis. Wouldn’t life be great if every morning we woke up to that dream being a reality?

6. Taking off/Landing in a plane in a new city.

All I can think of every time I get on/off a plane is The Parent Trap and a song about sunshine is playing in the background.

7. Walking through the streets with shopping bags and sunglasses.

I tend to channel my inner Blair Waldorf or Serena Van der woodsen on this one… walking through the streets of “Paris” (so I imagine) with fabulous shoes, windblown hair, and Gucci sunglasses blocking my eyes from the sun rays. XOXO Gossip Girl.

Cover Image Credit: Maggie Kohlrus

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5 Broadway Musicals For People Who Aren't Fans Of Musicals

Need A Gateway To Broadway? Check Out One Of These Classics

If you're not a fan of musicals then I understand where you're coming from. When we go see a movie or a play, we usually need the story to play out in a world of logic. A beginning, middle, and end without interruptions and with us able to know what's happening, as in our world. So when we see a musical and suddenly the actors break out in song and dance, some might be confused and lose their sense of the plot and what's going on.

What happens when characters break out and sing is us, the audience, getting inside their mind and emotions. We manage to know thoughts and feelings better in musicals than most normal characters because there's a passion and poetry to a song that doesn't translate into real life.

It takes awhile to become a fan of musicals if you're not one yet. You need to adapt to its world and suspend your disbelief.

But in a way, if you grew up a fan of animated Disney classics, then you already are a fan of Broadway musicals because a lot of those cartoons are made like Broadway musicals, too. They have multiple song-and-dance breaks condensed into the story.

With that said, there are a few great Broadway shows out there that made me a fan of the musical scene, and I think these five below can get you hooked too. We'll start off with a Disney classic that got a stark reimagination in their musical treatment:

The Lion King

There have been several Disney movies adapted onto the stage, but no adaption is quite as experimental and memorable as The Lion King.

Famous theater and movie director, Julie Taymor, adapted the 1994 Disney animated classic on the stage with a unique style and vision.

While the movie is a fun cartoon about wild animals in Africa, the stage musical pays homage to African culture in its costume designs and props.

Taymor even borrows from techniques that were used all the way back in Ancient Greek theater as the actors wear masks and use puppetry. While we can see actors faces wearing the masks of the animals or holding their animal puppet, we suspend our disbelief and can visualize both the face and the mask as one character.

What this musical taught me is that you can take a recognizable story and recreate the visuals and style in a way that creates an entirely different experience. Even though the musical almost plays out exactly like the Disney movie word-for-word.


When making a musical, it helps to have the story based on a well-known property. Which is why Wicked, a prequel to The Wizard of Oz, is one of the most popular Broadway shows of the 21st Century.

What made it fascinating to me as a kid was that it was the first time I saw a version of a classic story told from the perspective of the villain.

In the iconic 1939 film, The Wicked Witch of The West is one of the most one-dimensional villains in cinema history. So when the idea was introduced to me that a villain could turn into a sympathetic and misunderstood heroine, it was mind-boggling. The ugly and hideous character you were scared of is suddenly the hero you're rooting for.

The story is about the young Wicked Witch, originally named Elphaba, having to deal with being rejected by society for being green and thinking differently, making her a rebel to the system and "Defying Gravity." It enriches a world that was already rich in our imaginations as kids.

Idina Menzel was the original Elphaba on Broadway, and she went on to play a similarly misunderstood heroine as Elsa in Frozen. (Which also has a Broadway musical now.)

The Phantom Of The Opera

I know it's silly but listen to that overture! DAAAAA DA DA DA DA DAAAA!

The longest-running Broadway musical of all-time recently surpassed its 30th anniversary and has no signs of slowing down.

While snobby critics and intellectual Broadway fans who prefer more complex lyrics and down-to-earth stories, the music and mise-en-scene of The Phantom of The Opera stay in your mind in ways that most entertainment products can't.

The half-mask, the falling chandelier, the booming organ playing the big opening notes DAAAAAA DA DA DA DAAA DAAAAAA! (Which Andy Lloyd Webber probably stole from Pink Floyd’s Echoes)

It’s also fascinating how this musical might be the most instantly recognizable and popular Broadway show of the past three decades.

It's based off an 1880's French novel written by Gaston Leroux that was adapted into several Hollywood films including the iconic 1925 silent horror movie starring Lon Chaney.

From This

To This

Lord Andrew Llyod Weber's version of the story, however, is a lavish and romantic update of the gothic tale about the disfigured man behind the mask who hides beneath the Paris Opera House and haunts everyone in it. He's a master singer and musician who teaches the opera's young singer, Christine Daae, in secret and falls in love with her, setting up a series of dramatic and intense events at the theater that leads to an emotional climax. While he's not the hero of the musical, he's still sympathetic and one of the most compelling characters in all of theater.

It’s not a perfect show: It has its flaws in storytelling and the bombastic music and spectacle contradict with a dark story about a toxic relationship. The emotionally damaged and disfigured titular character manipulates the young and impressionable singer in disguising himself as an angelic singing teacher called the “Angel of Music”. What makes the story great however is the fact that they do manage to mature their way out the abusive relationship in the climactic scene where the maskless Phantom finds the compassion to let his love go with her childhood sweetheart Raoul.

While the musical did get a movie adaptation in 2004 directed by Joel Schumacher and starring Gerard Butler(?!) as the title character, in my opinion, the best version of the show is the 25th Anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess.

Here's a great mashup of the classic Phantom song The Music of The Night with arguably the two best actors to play him, Karimloo and Michael Crawford.

Les Miserables

There’s something about this era of American history we live in that makes Les Miserables feel relatable and meaningful. It’s not just because this is a play about a tragic revolution but also all the characters in the show are MISERABLE. And we Americans are all MISERABLE.

It's one of the most popular musicals of all-time despite its heavy themes about life and thick story. The original novel was written by iconic French author, Victor Hugo, and was published all the way back during the Civil War. The novel is one of the most beloved ever, and there were several movies based on the classic tale, but the Broadway musical has gone down as it's most recognized adaptation.

The epic and timeless story chronicles the struggle and redemption of its main character Jean Valjean as he's chased by the obsessed Inspector Javert for breaking his parole. (The crime he went to jail for just for stealing a loaf of bread) He also takes care of Cosette, the orphaned daughter of a factory worker who died on the streets after losing her job, which Valjean feels responsible for.

The music, composed in the early 80s by French composers and translated into English when taken by England, is stirring and inspiring. There are so many moments where you want to break out into a chorus and scream the fighting words of Revolution! It has so many tunes that raise the hairs on the back of your neck like "I Dreamed a Dream" "Bring Him Home" "On My Own" "Do You Hear The People Sing?" "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables" and "One Day More."

While the Oscar-winning 2012 movie version is good, I think the best version of the musical is the 1996 10th anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Hall.



You thought I was gonna put Lestat The Musical for the fifth and final spot?

You gotta listen to Hamilton!

Lin Manuel-Miranda's masterpiece of 21st-century art and theater not only made musicals cool again, but it made American history and Democracy cool again.

The music is catchy, the lyrics are insightful and brilliant, the storytelling is complex and fascinating. We get to witness the sharp and heavy minds of some of the greatest people of the Revolutionary Era. Too many people put the Founding Fathers on pedestals as mythologized Gods, but Hamilton makes these people seem like brilliant but flawed humans, making them more appreciated and beloved than ever.

It's an inspiring tale of the American dream and also a human tragedy. And in this current era of bubbling tensions and a groundswell of change and revolt, Hamilton means something to Americans that I don't think Manuel-Miranda himself thought was possible.

The best part? The fact that this musical is based on the lives of real people and nearly every original cast member is not the race or ethnicity of the person they’re playing and nobody cares! Like...nobody!

Here's a funny parody of the title track at the 70th Tonys

Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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