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Stage Review

‘The Lightning Thief’ is a blast — and that’s no myth

Chris McCarrell stars in the Huntington Theatre Company's production of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”Jeremy Daniel

For any teenager, figuring out who you are can be an all-consuming quest.

For Percy Jackson, that quest is quite literal, and it carries inordinately high stakes: the fate of the universe.

Percy is the bewildered but dauntless protagonist of the musical that bears his name, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,’’ an adaptation of the first novel in Rick Riordan’s popular fantasy-adventure series that has roared into the Huntington Avenue Theatre for a week and a half stay.

Though it’s clearly geared toward young audiences, even those who fall outside that demographic are likely to find much to enjoy in “The Lightning Thief.’’ I certainly do, and I certainly did. In its outlandish, go-for-broke way, it’s kind of a blast, actually.


Directed at full throttle by Stephen Brackett, with a disarmingly funny script by Joe Tracz, a hard-rocking score by Rob Rokicki, and a host of entertaining performances led by Chris McCarrell as Percy, “The Lightning Thief’’ sweeps you up in its barely controlled mayhem as a contemporary high schooler is thrust into the danger-filled world of Greek mythology. (A world that has also inspired musicals as different as “Xanadu’’ and “Hadestown.’’)

A thunderclap is the first sound we hear in “The Lightning Thief,’’ and that’s fitting because it establishes not just the show’s aural template — it’s a loud production, and at times the band drowns out the singers — but also augurs the nature of Percy’s emotional journey, during which revelations keep crashing like thunder, disrupting his attempt to stay cool (their impact is deftly conveyed by McCarrell). The intense lighting by designer David Lander materializes as startlingly as lightning; ditto for the eruptive sound design by Ryan Rumery. Director Brackett’s deliberately rough-edged, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink sensory-overload style will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his New York production of “Be More Chill,’’ another teen-focused musical (which features a book written by Tracz).


Yet in its rare quiet moments, “The Lightning Thief’’ poignantly dramatizes the anguish of kids whose parents have disappeared from their lives.

To be sure, we’re not talking about typical cases of parental abandonment here. Percy’s loving mother, Sally (Jalynn Steele, excellent), has never told him who his absentee father is, but he eventually discovers it is none other than Poseidon, that trident-wielding god of the sea. That means Percy is half-god, half-mortal, though he’s a demigod with the usual welter of adolescent issues. Expelled from his high school, he ends up in Camp Half-Blood on Long Island, where the boundaries between his contemporary world and that of Greek mythology dissolve (a notion cleverly evoked by set designer Lee Savage’s three large, graffiti-scarred columns).

Which brings us to that aforementioned quest. Someone has stolen Zeus’s master lightning bolt, and all-out war between the gods will erupt unless it is returned to him. Such a war would have dire ramifications for mortals who already have their hands full coping with the rigors of, say, high school. The task of journeying to Hades to retrieve the bolt falls to Percy, accompanied by the smart, self-possessed Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), the daughter of Athena, who is desperate to earn the approval of her indifferent goddess-mother; and Percy’s friend-turned-satyr Grover (Izzy Figueroa). Staying behind is Luke (James Hayden Rodriguez), camp counselor and son of Hermes, with whom Percy had developed an affinity that will soon be sorely tested.


The journey by Percy et. al. is filled with obstacles. The creators of “The Lightning Thief’’ know how to exploit the comic potential that abounds when the perils of adolescence include a minotaur; Medusa (whose look can turn you into stone); a foreboding Oracle; Ares, the motorcycle-riding god of war; and Cerberus, the three-headed dog. Acheson Walsh Studios has devised some wild puppet monsters, and the battle scenes are ably staged (fight direction is by Rod Kinter). T. Shyvonne Stewart, among several cast members tackling multiple roles, plays Clarisse, the daughter of Ares, as well as a Fury posing as a substitute teacher and, later, a chattering squirrel.

But my favorite in the cast is the deep-voiced, utterly hilarious Ryan Knowles, who portrays Chiron, a Latin-teacher-turned-centaur. It is Chiron who more or less spells out the show’s premise when he says challengingly to Percy: “Do you think the Greek gods stopped existing just because people stopped believing in them? They’re all around us.’’

Knowles also plays Poseidon as a languid beach-bum sort, as well as Hades, for whom the actor seems to be channeling the vocal mannerisms of Paul Lynde. I’m sure none of the young people inside the Huntington Avenue Theatre know who Lynde was, but it cracked me up. I guess “The Lightning Thief’’ has something for everybody.


Book by Joe Tracz. Music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Adapted from “The Lightning Thief,’’ by Rick Riordan. Directed by Stephen Brackett. Choreographed by Patrick McCollum. Presented by Huntington Theatre Company. At Huntington Avenue Theatre, Boston, through July 28. Tickets $35-$115, 617-266-0800,


Don Aucoin can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@GlobeAucoin.