BY MATT WINDMAN | What in the name of Zeus is “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” — a lightweight and makeshift children’s musical based on Rick Riordan’s 2005 novel that launched the popular “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” fantasy series — doing on Broadway instead of an elementary school auditorium?
A sort of successor to the “Harry Potter” franchise, “Percy Jackson” combines ancient mythology with young adult adventure to depict the angsty half-human children of the Greek gods (nicknamed “half-bloods”), who reside together at a camp on Long Island.
In “The Lightning Thief,” Percy Jackson, a misfit who somehow keeps landing into trouble, learns that he is the son of the sea god Poseidon and, after slaying a minotaur and winning a game of capture the flag, embarks on a hero’s quest to retrieve the missing thunderbolt of Zeus.
Not long after “The Lightning Thief” received a universally-maligned 2010 film adaptation (which included an appearance by Pierce Brosnan as a half-man, half-horse centaur), Theatreworks USA, a not-for-profit group that produces shows for young audiences, developed an hour-long musical version of “The Lightning Thief” that toured schools across the country.
The musical was subsequently revised and expanded into two acts over two hours. Following a limited Off-Broadway run and a commercial national tour (which included a brief stop at the Beacon Theatre on the Upper West Side), “The Lightning Thief” has inexplicably landed at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre, where it is slated to run through early January.
A pre-adolescent theatergoer could do a lot worse than “The Lightning Thief,” which has peppy pop-rock songs by Rob Rokicki (who rhymes “Mickey D’s” with “take-out Vietnamese”), a fast-paced book by Joe Tracz (“Be More Chill”) and many small but nifty special effects (including puppets, confetti blasts and leaf blowers that splatter toilet paper onto the front rows of the audience).
That being said, “The Lightning Thief” is embarrassingly out of place on Broadway. The cheap-looking production (with some hastily arranged scaffolds, poles and columns) still looks as if it was intended to be stored in a van and brought to multiple schools a day. The innocent charm it might have had for adults when viewed in a less formal context has evaporated.
The show’s seven cast members (including four who play countless small roles) deliver oversized, over-the-top performances that were clearly intended to capture and maintain the attention of children, but here come off as excessive and irritating.
Leading man Chris McCarrell is particularly strident and strained as Percy Jackson.
This brings to mind the recent fate of “Be More Chill,” the sci-fi teen musical helmed by some of the same people involved with “The Lightning Thief” (including director Stephen Brackett), which proved unable to last long on Broadway in spite of a massive internet fan following. Both “The Lightning Thief” and “Be More Chill” are likely to continue entertaining children and teens and sparking their interest in musical theater for years to come – just not on Broadway.
1.5 out of 4 stars
“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” runs at the Longacre Theatre through Jan. 5. 220 West 48th St., lightningthiefmusical.com.