If the young man sitting behind me is any indication of success, then The Lightning Thief is a success of Hamilton proportions. I am, frankly, envious of his absolute joy and excitement. I remember when seeing a show gave me that feeling. Perhaps you can, too. You know, when what you have seen is just so great, you can't talk fast enough to get all of the happiness out? The boy was teary with joy, and couldn't wait for intermission to be over. For what it is - children's theater - indeed, The Lightning Thief is an achievement. As adult Broadway entertainment, not so much.
|Chris McCarrell and James Hayden Rodriguez|
Oddly enough, though I think it would have been better streamlined down to its original one act size, I can't really say what I would cut - it didn't feel too padded. Joe Tracz' book is fast-paced, blink-and-you'll-miss-it full of story. It is clear and downright exciting most of the time, with smartly placed moments of serious emotion to let us catch our breath and feel something. But it lacks a certain maturity. The same can be said for Rob Rokicki's boisterous score, which as it is happening feels exactly right, both musically and lyrically, but none of it really sticks with you, either. Here is a case where I liked the music enough that I wish I could hum some of it.
|Percy Jackson fights the Minotaur|
I suppose with the same book writer and director, comparisons between The Lightning Thief and Be More Chill are inevitable. While BMC is aimed at a slightly older demographic, TLT is considerably better. Here, the book doesn't pander to the lowest common denominator with an unhealthy need to be cool; instead, it exects its young audience to pay attention and it never talks down to them. I really appreciate that. The same thing can be said for Stephen Brackett's direction. Here, he keeps a breathless pace, but his staging is far more creative and engaging. Yes, he paints with a too-broad brush sometimes, but he has chosen a theme and stuck with it. Perhaps his earlier show would still be running if he had done the same. A lot of staging credit also needs to go to choreographer Patrick McCollum and fight director Rod Kinter, who continually create movement that seems both epic and full of adventure - a great thing considering the story. They work miracles with just seven actors.
|Chris McCarrell and Jalynn Steele|
|Chris McCarrell and Kristin Stokes|
There were two pleasant discoveries here as well. One was girl power incarnate, the fierce Kristin Stokes, who was the kind of performer you watch even when she's in the background just to see what she's up to. She's created a smart, brave young woman on par with Belle, Elsa and Hermione Granger, and that is a huge compliment. I look forward to seeing her in a production worthy of her talents soon. I feel the same for the powerhouse that is Chris McCarrell. He is Albus, Scorpious and Evan Hansen all rolled into one. He is a terrific mix of Broadway and rock star - think Dear Evan Hansen meets American Idiot. (I nominate him for a revival of the latter!) I suspect both Ms. Stokes and Mr. McCarrell have long careers ahead of them, and we are all the better for it.
Despite its shortcomings, The Lightning Thief was enjoyable. And, hey, I can check "having toilet paper shot at me so I am wrapped like a mummy" off my bucket list. Subsequent patrons sitting in orchestra seat C109 beware!
📸: J. Kyler, J. Daniel