‘The Percy Jackson the Musical’ loses universality

Heidi Speck


From left to right: Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, and Jorrel Javier star in The Lightning Thief. Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

A hunky Perseus “Percy” Jackson slides front and center stage on his knees, landing in a pose, laying down and leaning on one elbow, as if he has just asked Jack to “paint me like one of your french girls.”

His first words, in verbatim, copy the opening line of the first book that “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is based off of.

He sang, “Look,” he pauses while an electric guitar builds behind him. “I didn’t want to be a half-blood.” As Percy makes his way to center stage, the six other cast members prepare for the first scene, and they launch into the story orchestrated by pop-rock.

A fast-paced, exciting story unfolds, moving rapidly from scene to scene, never giving the audience time to be bored. Unfortunately, somewhere in the rush, the ageless draw that the Percy Jackson books have do not translate onto the stage. Along with it comes a disconnect between its adult writers and actors and the reality of the characters, which are supposed to be 12-year-olds.

The musical is based off of the first in a beloved series of books by Rick Riordan published in 2005, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”

Originally premiering in 2017, the show was written by Joe Tracz, with lyrics and music by Rob Rokichi. The show is currently traveling nationally, recently making its stop in Seattle at the 5th Avenue Theatre, and is made up of all original cast who opened the show off-broadway.

The story follows a narrative relatively similar to the books.

The prop team worked to create many of the book’s mythical creatures, including a Minotaur. Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

Percy, played by Chris McCarrell, finds out that he is the son of Poseidon after he battles a minotaur on his way to Camp Half-Blood, a camp for the children of the ancient Greek gods. Soon Percy, his best friend Grover the satyr (played by Jorrel Javier), and daughter of Athena Annabeth Chase (played by understudy Sarah Beth Pfeifer) are sent on a quest to find Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt, hence the name  “The Lightning Thief.”

The show’s greatest weakness is its target audience. While having a musical targeting a younger audience is by no means a bad thing, anyone who hasn’t read the books or is over the age of a middle schooler could easily get lost in the zany puppets and flying toilet paper.

The exaggerated acting and almost cartoonish adaptations of its characters very clearly characterizes who the show’s intended audience is — children ages 10-13 would be my guess — and lacks a nuanced theme that would draw in an older audience.  

Despite this, there is much to like about “Percy Jackson the Musical.” The music — including multiple angsty ballads  — drives the momentum of the story, moving from a battle with a demon on a bus to descending into the underworld in what feels like a blink of an eye, or perhaps a flash of lightning.

Kristin Stokes plays Annabeth in The Lightning Thief play. Photo Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel

The dialogue, while there is a disconnect definitely between adult and teen in its forced usage of “totally” and “freakin,” is charming in its youthfulness. At one point, while using his pen/sword, Percy waves it around like a lightsaber, making whooshing noises.  

While I personally find it unproductive to compare an adaptation to its book, in this case I feel there is some relevance. The Percy Jackson books had a timelessness that made them approachable to any reader, whether or not the reader’s age mirrored the age of the book’s central characters. Unfortunately, though, the musical does not capture that same timelessness.

The universality is lost somewhere in translation.