Encore Michigan

‘The Lightning Thief’ thunders into The Fisher

Review March 02, 2019 Julie Linderleaf

DETROIT, Mich.–“The things that make you different, make you strong,” Percy Jackson’s mom Sally (Jalynn Steele) sings to her son, trying to explain why his life seems so hard. This new touring musical at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre through March 9, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, with book written by Joe Tracz and music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, is definitely different than the original book by Rick Riordan, and even different from the big screen movie too. However, its differences make it strong!

Even before the lights go down, a giant thunder clap startles the audience to attention as the characters rush to the front of the stage to begin this rock musical. Seven actors and actresses dominate the stage and play multiple characters on this budget- friendly set. Simplistic in design, the set has platforms to the left and right with the pit musicians and conductor, Wiley DeWeese, far up in the air over the actors as if THEY were the gods on Mount Olympus. Underneath the musician platforms were small alcoves with props and movable set pieces that the actors manipulate.

Percy Jackson (Chris McCarrell) is a troubled teen with ADHD and Dsylexia, an awful stepfather, and no knowledge of his birth father. On a field trip, learning about Greek mythology, his own substitute teacher turns into a fury. Percy defeats him with a pen-turned- sword given to him by his teacher, yet he gets expelled anyway. His mom finally feels that it’s time for him to learn who he is, and tells and him the story of meeting his real father, Poseidon. A Minotaur then appears and attacks Percy and his mother.

He wakes up on the coast of Camp Half Blood. He’s shocked to find out that his best friend, Grover (Jorrel Javier) is there too, but has legs like a goat. And his teacher, Chiron (Ryan Knowles) is there too, but with a tail. Percy is still confused trying to deal with the loss of his mom and now the new knowledge that he is a demi-god. Percy soon gets assigned a quest to find Zeus’s missing bolts.

The quest takes Percy, Grover, and another Demi-god, Annabeth (Kristin Stokes) all over America, as they head for the underworld in Los Angeles. They confront many evil monsters that are trying to kill the half-bloods.

The seven actors play a mass of characters so well that sometimes it feels like there must be more like a dozen or more players. Jaylnn Steele is terrific as Percy’s mom Sally, and rocks Hades as a dynamite Motown performer as Charon, as well as even more roles as a camper, the oracle, train conductor, and even a statue. Ryan Knowles, manipulates his voice from a deep rhythmic purr as the teacher and Chiron, to a surfer dude as Poseidon, to a whiny high pitched squeal as Medusa, and still follows through with quick changes as one of the campers, and many others. Even though these actors did a wonderful job with all the quick character changes, it would have been nicer to actually see additional younger actors in the same roles. Riordan wrote the original story with Percy as a 12 year old. The actors, as hard as they try, can’t really look like pre-teens.

While the set and props are simplistic, they are used creatively. Two painting platforms were continuously used as a variety of different set pieces, like buses, trains, and moved in order to access different levels or angles. The use of toilet paper and leaf blowers, or portraying a bus blowing up with a confetti cannon makes the show easy to stage without the use of projections. There is extensive use of puppets and costume pieces that portray the evil monsters.

The dance numbers were a bit odd and the movements seemed strange and forced. Songs like the “Campfire Song” and “Lost” had dances choreographed by Patrick McCollum with a lot of arms swinging that seemed a bit out of sync with the songs. The fight choreography by Rod Kinter is very well done. Getting attacked by monsters while on a quest leads to a lot of choreographed fight scenes.

The end is not the same as the book or the movie, but it doesn’t disappoint. The Lightning Thief definitely rocks the audience at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit. Especially if you are a Percy fan, make sure to see it before it storms away.

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