It isn’t easy being 12 years old and a demigod with dyslexia. Percy Jackson may be the son of Poseidon, but that hasn’t stopped him from getting expelled from school after school. Jackson began life as the hero of a series of bedtime stories that Rick Riordan created for his son, then became the protagonist on the pages of Riordan’s bestselling novels, and graduated (or was demoted?) to screen time in a couple of blockbuster movies starring Logan Lerman. Now he is on the stage of the Lucille Lortel Theater, in a free, hour-long musical for children, alongside his best best friend Grover, a satyr (half man, half goat), and his rival/love interest Annabeth, the “half-blood” daughter of the goddess Athena.
In playwright Joe Tracz and director Stephen Brackett’s clever low-budget translation to the stage, commissioned by TheatreWorks USA, six performers play some two dozen characters (and sing Rob Rokicki’s 14 rock and roll songs) in an epic tale full of Greek gods and venerable monsters (a Minotaur, Medusa, Cyclops, a Fury) set among a modern world of broken homes and brutal schools. (That Fury was disguised as Mrs. Dodds the substitute teacher.) Think The Odyssey, with touches of Harry Potter and Spider-Man.
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In “The Lightning Thief,” somebody has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt, which threatens to ignite a war among his brother gods Hades and Poseidon. Percy is a major suspect, since it is only the demigods or half-bloods — those with one god parent and one mortal one — who are capable of the theft. As the musical begins, Percy is a true innocent; he has no idea who his real father is, and cannot stand his horrid stepfather. His mother Sally has been protecting Percy. But she is kidnapped and brought to the Underworld, and Percy resolves to rescue her.
There is, in short, lots of plot here, a bit more than I could easily follow. But the rest of the audience — average age about seven — seemed rapt. This was surely in part a function of the fast pace and simple, inventive stagecraft, helped along by Sam Pinkleton’s choreography, and delivered by a talented, energetic cast. As Percy, Eric Meyers makes an impressive New York stage debut, Kristin Stokes is his formidable foil as Annabeth Graham, Jordan Stanley as the half-bleating half-goat makes the most of the comedy. Parker Drown, Graham Stevens and Zakiya Young all handle their multiple roles with zest and strong voice.
The creative team is surely being shrewd when early on in “The Lightning Thief,” after Percy and his classmates tour the classical wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, they have him sing:
I didn’t really get the story
At least it wasn’t boring, like I feared
But is it me, or is Greek mythology
not deeply weird?
“The Lightning Thief” is scheduled to run through Aug. 22. Performances are primarily during the daytime.