When the adaptation of your young adult novel doesn’t seem to catch on, it might just be worth it to contact Joe Tracz.
The writer is working on the Netflix series, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” — now renewed for both a second and third series — and he wrote the book for the off-Broadway musical adaptation of Rick Riordan’s “The Lightning Thief.” Both franchises had films that didn’t latch on with viewers, seemingly left to the ether.
But now both are seeing new life, and you can partially thank Tracz for that.
“I discovered the ‘Percy Jackson’ books the same time I discovered the Lemony Snicket books,” Tracz says. “Even though the books are very different in story and tone, they do sort of share that common thematic core of kids trying to make their way in an adult world. But also they both were movies, they both were movies that didn’t take off. And I think that both of them weren’t meant to be movies.”
amNewYork spoke with the 35-year-old about his work.
What were some of the challenges of bringing “The Lightning Thief” to the stage?
The challenge is also the fun of it. I love big genre storytelling and I love that it felt like something I haven’t seen on stage before. ... You don’t get to see like the big, young adult action fantasy as a musical very often. It’s hard for us to even think of another one that does the same thing this show does. I just love the idea of doing something big and genre-y on stage.
I say this with incredible fondness, but the show is very campy.
First of all, the show is set at a summer camp for the gods, it would have to be a bit campy, forgive the pun. But sorry I couldn’t resist. But honestly part of what I loved in the books is the way it takes these big epic Greek myths and translates it to the present day, and the humor comes from the way these big serious mythic things are sort of twisted and punctured and played with in a sort of temporary vernacular.
What made Chris McCarrell the right guy to play Percy?
The thing about Percy, he’s an outsider. He’s a misfit, he’s a weird kid who feels like he doesn’t fit in. I think certain film adaptations tend to cast toward him being a hero from the get-go. So you see him and you’re like, “How does this kid have any problems fitting in? He looks like an action hero. He acts like an action hero. He talks like an action hero.” And Chris who is like a really goofy, funny, gawky, charismatic, but silly performer — you know he feels like someone who you’re like, “Oh, yeah I could see where you wouldn’t fit in.”
Did “Percy Jackson” author Rick Riordan have any input with this?
I met with Rick back when we first got the rights to do the musical. I got to sit down with Rick and his son and talk to him about Percy. … He felt burned by the film adaptation. So I think he had a healthy dose of skepticism about what this adaptation might do to the property. But I also think that he recognized theater’s history of adapting books in a really respectful way. ... he’s been incredibly supportive.
This is the first book of the series. Will you be doing more?
[Lyricist Rob Rokicki] and [director Stephen Brackett] continually joke about how we want to continue adapting every single book in the “Percy Jackson” series. My favorite character doesn’t even show up in the first book. But we do have a little Easter egg nodding to him. My favorite character is Nico di Angelo, the gay goth son of Hades.
They just renewed “Unfortunate Events” for a third season. What does that mean to you?
I’m in the writer’s room today up in Vancouver where we’re shooting. We’re working with Daniel [Handler], who’s Lemony Snicket, the author of the books. ... It was so satisfying for me that we’re going to tell the complete story. ... [It] is pretty much a young adult literature-loving geek’s dream come true.