Teenage superhero Percy Jackson has featured in five novels, two movies, and now he’s on Broadway with a musical, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, that is a retread of the first movie, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010).
This genial bore of a show is lacking many things: first and foremost, a sense of magic, alongside a halfway decent story and memorable songs. It is also full of echoes of other young adult stories of its ilk. Percy and his young friends seem like other young people in fantastical stories, most obviously Harry, Hermione, and Ron from Harry Potter.
If you or your kids enjoy the Percy Jackson series, perhaps this will not be a completely wasted couple of hours. Equally you won’t be missing much if you decide to forgo this particular piece of brand extension. You may go, and smile with a few bits of “ooo-yes” recognition, but you won’t leave Broadway’s Longacre Theatre—where the show opened Wednesday night, to Jan. 5—with your synapses set to thrilled mode.
Percy Jackson suffers in Broadway comparison to the visual theatrics of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and the zany fun and rich canvas of SpongeBob Squarepants.
The story ambles along, with all its shocking bits not that shocking—even its vengeful wraiths are disappointing because you have seen similar puppetry in War Horse, and other shows subsequent to it.
Percy (Chris McCarrell) himself is yet another generically good-looking white teenager, who sings songs about feeling different. Possible contributing factors to this—that he suffers from ADHD and dyslexia—are mentioned, and then never mentioned again—and don’t visibly influence anything on stage.
Percy on stage, honestly, seems like a pretty regular, good kid. He rarely disobeys anyone, is kind and solicitous, and always does the right thing and acts heroically without any pause. The story keeps bringing up how hard his life has been and how different he is, but he doesn’t seem that different.
Eventually, Percy announces to us that he is now officially on a quest, and off he, Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), and Grover (Jorrel Javier) go to try and find Zeus' stolen lightning bolt, and thereby prevent war breaking out between the Greek gods.
There are all kinds of other things happening on the side of the main drama that could be elaborated on, or followed through on—Percy’s appalling stepfather, the supposed death of his mother Sally (Jalynn Steele). Stokes sings a ballad, “My Grand Plan,” which feels listless and pamphlet-y, in praise of her own empowerment.
Like the other kids at Camp Half-Blood, a summer camp for kids of demigods like Percy, Percy is struggling with fairly yawnsome things: what to do when you’re the kid of a god, and how to use some pretty intense superpowers. There’s a lot of talk about what it’s like if your dad is Poseidon, and not much conflict.
When father and son eventually see each other, it’s... totally fine. The musical is a succession of promised thrills and damp squibs, although the streaks of lighting from ceiling to stage are a lovely way to convey roads.
Percy Jackson progresses very politely and predictably. For all its praise of difference, it is itself entirely by rote. It’s always nice when children are well-behaved in theaters, but then you think about them sitting there so quietly during something like Percy Jackson, and you think as I did at the performance I attended: Hang on, they should be a little more vocal.
It’s not that the musical is bad when it comes to moral lessons—and it’s especially good to see boys and girls being friends as a narrative end in itself, rather than involved in romance. But the monsters don’t seem that scary, and Percy never seems that in danger. The quest feels more like a chaotic videogame, with each set-piece fight a grating scramble.
There are a few breakout moments, such as a great visual effect that happens near the end, Charon's song as the kids descend to the underworld, and also when the final song, “Bring on the Monsters,” posits the challenge to its young and old audience that we should all be brave to face the monsters and demons running amok in our real world.
This is a bracing call to social and civic responsibility. But it’s missing from the main body of this aimless musical, which seems more concerned with box-ticking than originality.