by ERIKA SASSEVILLE
I discovered the Percy Jackson books by Rick Riordan when I was in middle school, just a bit older than the 12 year-old titular protagonist in his first book: The Lightning Thief. Almost immediately, I fell head over heels in love with the series.
In The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) is expelled from his sixth school in six years when his math teacher turns into a giant monster and runs amok at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His mom, Sally (Jalynn Steele), takes him to a summer camp, but all is not what it seems. At Camp Half-blood, Percy learns more about his old friends, makes some new ones and gets wrapped into a god-sized search for a stolen lightning bolt.
The Music and Lyrics by Rob Rokicki immediately delight fans with the specificity of the book references. It is crystal clear that both the songs and book (Joe Tracz) are written by people who love the source material. Together, the cast create a menagerie of carefully crafted and executed characters. Every actor but Chris McCarrell as Percy and Kristin Stokes as Annabeth play a minimum of two characters throughout the duration of the performance. Ryan Knowles (Chiron and others), Sarah Beth Pfeifer (Clarisse and others), James Hayden Rodriguez (Luke and others), and Jalynn Steele (Sally and others) all don the guise of around 10 or more characters each as the quest moves from Long Island to Los Angeles. The entire casts’ vocal chops throughout the performance are impressive to say the least. Knowles stands out for his incredible voice work and impressively limber performances. He had most of the audience, from kid to grandparent, shaking with laughter with his portrayals of Chiron, Medusa, and Hades.
The Big Three of this production are McCarrell as Percy, Stokes as Annabeth, and Jorrel Javier as Grover (and Mr. D). The trio is at the center of the original book series, and the same is true for the musical. McCarrell’s Percy feels very much like your average 12 year-old boy. He fidgets, he plays with his hoodie, and he occasionally puts his foot in his mouth around a girl. Stokes gives Annabeth every inch of moxy that she deserves. Annabeth is a stellar example for girls everywhere: she’s smart, she’s tough, and she’d do anything to help her friends. Javier is a head-banging delight as Grover. He balances the goofy side of the satyr with his deep sorrow for the mistakes of his past.
There is no possible way for me to fully express how impressed I was by the lighting (David Lander) and scenic (Lee Savage) design in particular. The use of on-stage LED strips and fixtures combined with the practical and versatile set pieces are a perfect reflection of the actors’ imagination on stage. The lighting design wows from beginning to end, the very end in fact, with the lights on and above the stage spelling out “PERCY” as the audience exits.
Growing up with ADHD is hard, but Riordan’s heroes (all with ADHD and often dyslexia as well) make it seem so normal and ultimately useful. Riordan created the world of Percy Jackson to help his son accept and embrace his own ADHD and Dyslexia, and throughout his novels he has sought to do the same for an extremely diverse range of “misfits” and “outcasts.” He has featured lead characters from an impressive variety of ethnicities, family backgrounds, gender expressions, sexual preferences, and more. I am constantly amazed by the depth of courage and moral fortitude with which Riordan imbues his characters.
I highly encourage all readers of all ages to see the production, it is a marvel of human imagination. Additionally, I’d like to encourage all of you to check out the book series. Read it yourself, give it to a family member, or read it to your own children. Everyone can learn something from Riordan’s cast of heroes, so come see the show and “Bring on the Monsters!”