Last season, director Stephen Brackett and librettist Joe Tracz teamed up for the musical “Be More Chill,” which found much favor with the teenage demographic of Broadway theatergoers. Just two months after that show shuttered, Brackett and Tracz return to the Great White Way with another teen-oriented tuner, “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” which officially began its limited run at the Longacre Theatre on October 16.
Featuring a score by Broadway newcomer Rob Rokicki, “The Lightning Thief” hews closely to the popular young adult novel by Rick Riordan (which also inspired a movie franchise). Set present day, the musical follows the titular demigod Percy Jackson, played by Chris McCarrell, who attends Camp Half-Blood after he learns of his parentage to hone his skills and ward off the demons of Greek mythology.
“The Lightning Thief” received mostly negative reviews from critics. Jesse Green (New York Times) says that the “overblown and underproduced” show “has all the charm of a tension headache.” “A failed attempt to board the teenage fantasy-angst train,” Green writes that the production shows an “inaptness for Broadway” and features “hectic and monotonous” storytelling and songwriting and “cheesy and anticlimactic” effects. While extremely light on pleasantries, Green does toast McCarrell’s “mostly laid back, tossed-off performance,” and the ensemble of Broadway newcomers who “give it their overamplified all.”
Similarly, in a two-out-of-five star review, Helen Shaw (Time Out New York) calls the show “a mess” and “out of place” on the Broadway stage, boasting a “tangled” plot with “bizarre” character motivations. Of the cast, Shaw most appreciates the “humorous touches” in Ryan Knowles’s performance as various characters.
In a slightly more favorable review, Chris Jones (Daily News) applauds the “good moral lesson” of the musical, but critiques this particular mounting, saying, “Broadway is Broadway and you wish that the producers had amped up the cheesy production values from the prior national tour.” While Jones likes the “solid” and “fun” performances of McCarrell, Kristin Stokes, Jalynn Steele, and James Hayden Rodriguez, he says the show nevertheless “can’t drop the broad strokes when the material most demands something more.”
Nothing bodes particularly well for the Tony Awards prospects of “The Lightning Thief.” Not only did the critics almost uniformly deliver stingingly harsh reviews, indicating that the Tony nominating committee might not take a liking to the show either, but its limited run will also ensure that plenty of new material will come in and steal its limited thunder (or, in this case, lightning).
Additionally, none of the members of the creative team behind “The Lightning Thief” have particularly strong track records at the Tonys. Of the creatives and production designers, only lighting designer David Lander has scored nominations in the past (“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” 2011 and “33 Variations,” 2009). While true that most of the team does not have many Broadway credits that would allow them to accumulate Tony kudos yet, “Lightning Thief” does not seem like the show that will put them on the awards map.