‘The Lightning Thief’ is fast-paced family fun

Kristin Stokes, Chris McCarrell, and Jorrel Javier in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical plays July 17 — 28, 2019 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

BOSTON – Superheroes come in all ages, shape and sizes.

Take Percy Jackson. He’s a teenager with ADHD and dyslexia, which has slowed his progress as s student and led to his expulsion from a series of schools.

Still, it turns out he’s the son of a Greek god. One of the big ones, too, who comes armed with a trident. That complicates matters quite a bit, especially when he meets the children of other Greek gods long thought to be myths.

His adventures are chronicled in “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” based on the best-selling book “The Lightning Thief” by Richard Riordan, now at the Huntington Avenue Theatre through July 28.

“The Lightning Thief” is one of several young adult books in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series that has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide , and the musical adaptation that began off-Broadway in 2017 and is now touring  drew a much younger crowd than the Huntington Avenue Theatre usually draws.

The adaptation has a bit older Percy  but it’s a fun, colorful, fast-paced, comic romp that features clever costuming and some dazzling lighting and special effects to portray some of the fantastic creatures and monsters Percy (Chris McCarrell, reprising his off-Broadway role)  is forced to fight and defeat along the way, in a quest to find Zeus’ lighting bolt and prevent a war amongst the gods.

We first get a taste of what’s in store when, during a class visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a substitute teacher named Mrs. Dodds magically turns into a Fury, a vengeful female goddess, and Mr. Brunner (Ryan Knowles), one of Percy’s teachers who is actually Chiron, an immortal  Centaur – stay with us here – tosses him a pen that becomes a sword that allows Percy  to slay the beast.

Chris McCarrell and Jalynn Steele in the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical. Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Percy ends up getting expelled for leaving the group and his mother Sally (Jalynn Steele) consoles him and explains why his father left, and why she now lives with a bullying man named Gabe.  

Sally takes Percy to the beach to show where she met his father and the story takes a very dark turn. First, he finds that his friend Grover is actually a mythical creature called a satyr, with a horse’s ear and tail, and the trio are attacked by a Minotaur —   a half-beast, half man   — who attacks and kills Sally.

Percy eventually finds himself at Camp Half-Blood with a manic camp director Mr. D. who is actually Dionysius, god of wine and madness, a fine comic turn by Izzy Figueroa, who also plays Percy’s friend Grover, and there he meets other children of gods. They include Annanabeth Chase, (Kristin Stokes, a holdover from the original cast) a daughter of Athena who took care of Percy after his encounter with the Minotaur and a born leader; Clarisse La Rue (T. Shyvonne Stewart),  a daughter of Ares who takes an immediate disliking to Percy; and  Luke Castellan, a nineteen-year-old son of Hermes.

The camp director, Mr. D reluctantly explains to Percy that he is a demigod, the son of a human and a Greek god (“Another Terrible Day”). Mr. Brunner, who is also at the camp, explains to Percy that the gods will send a sign to claim him.

Luke sympathizes with Percy, telling him that lots of half-bloods never know their godly parents, as they are not claimed (“Their Sign”).

Ryan Knowles shines in a variety of roles including the Centaur Chiron and the Greek god Poseidon, played as an ultra-cool dude in a Hawaiian shirt.

Eventually, Percy will be claimed by Poseidon, the god of the sea, and is told that Zeus’ lightning bolt has been stolen and he is the No. 1 suspect. He, Annabeth and Grover will embark on a cross-country quest to solve the mystery of who stole the lightning bolt and why, while also possibly freeing Percy’s mother from The Underworld, where she is now being held after her death.

One by one the heroes and villains of Greek mythology make their entrance, including Medusa, a victim of Percy’s accidentally excellent swordplay.

Choreographer Patrick McCollum has some fun with the production numbers, especially the encounter down under in the Underworld.

The book by Tracz is funny, fast and full of positive messages,and works hand in hand with the brisk direction by Stephen Brackett and the tuneful pop-rock  score by Rob Rokicki work to keep things moving forward and sorted out as best they can, given the extensive list of friends, Gods and monsters who will be running on and off stage at frequent intervals.  

 “The Lightning Thief” is fast-paced, family-friendly fun, with some clever costuming, spectacular lighting, and other special effects to portray fantastic creatures, with no heavy lifting for your brain.

It was obvious many of those attending this show were devoted readers of the “Percy” books.  The best part for those attending “Percy Jackson” without having read the books is that now they can go back and read them, and in this era of Smartphones and Snapchat, that’s a good thing.

The national touring production of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” Book by Joe Tracz based on the book “The Lightning Thief” by Rick Riordan. Music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki. Directed by Stephen Brackett. At the Huntington Avenue Theatre through July 28.  For tickets, huntingtontheatre.org or 617-266-0800.

Company of the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical plays July 17 — 28, 2019 at the Avenue of the Arts / Huntington Avenue Theatre. Photo: Jeremy Daniel