By Barbara Anne Kirshner
High adventure, edge of your seat excitement, mesmerizing with mythology sprinkled in, that’s The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, currently receiving its Long Island premiere at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center.
Anyone in their teens knows Rick Riordan’s popular 2005 YA novel with similarities to a Harry Potteresque quest, but instead of wizards and wands, Percy must face mythological creatures and Zeus’ lightning bolt.
The theatrical version, with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki and book by Joe Tracz, was adapted from Riordan’s first novel in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series about a boy who discovers he is a demigod possessing magical powers.
The musical opened Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2014 as a one-hour show receiving positive reviews before heading into a national tour, then returned to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2017 this time with an augmented script. It debuted on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on October 16, 2019 and ran through January 5, 2020. A 2010 film preceded the musical and presently, a television series is in the works for Disney+.
When the president of the board at SCPA, Michael Mucciolo, was asked why such an innovative yet unfamiliar show to many adults was chosen for their season opener, his response was the hope for the future of theatre lies in attracting both youngsters and adults. From the size of the audience at the time of this review, it seems Mucciolo was right. The house was crowded with eager youngsters accompanied by parents who became fans if the enthusiastic standing ovation at curtain was any indication.
The technical aspects of this magical adventure are impressive. From lighting designer Chris Creevy’s strategically placed strobes to flashes of white lights to mood reds combined with sound designer Jacques St. Louis’ thunderous effects and echoes, each detail builds suspense. The set, constructed by Keith Blum, Jacques St. Louis and Michael Mucciolo, with an upstage screen that projected at once stars then fire, then swirls of smoke, then a silhouette of a tree against an orange sky adds intensity to scenes.
A particularly thrilling projection was of a Minotaur (half bull, half man) attacking Percy, his friend, Grover, and killing Percy’s mom, Sally. To avenge her death, Percy kills the Minotaur and the projection has this monster keel over and disappear. Additionally, a scaffolding with levels gives flexibility with set changes.
Director Robbie Torres keeps the pace electric assisted by a talented cast with strong voices and playing multiple characters. In the lead role of Percy Jackson, Jason Steven Kopp captivates as the troubled teen with ADHD and dyslexia who is always getting into trouble. Percy was raised by a loving mom, a mean stepdad and wonders about the natural father he never met.
In a sudden revelation, Percy discovers he is the son of Poseidon, and thus begins his quest with two of his pals to find the lightning bolt that will prevent war between the gods. With innocent eyes that reach out and spirited vocals, Kopp sends chills especially when he challenges “bring on the monsters, bring on the real world.” Though this is a fantasy, the message that your differences may be blessings in disguise that help you rise up and be strong is very real.
When Percy kills the Minotaur, he is knocked unconscious only to wake in a land called Camp Half-Blood, a place for children who are half mortals just like him. It is revealed that his friend, Grover (Cyd Rosenberg), is a satyr, a Greek goat-like protector. Grover remains at Percy’s side through his quest. Also joining them is Annabeth (Lorelai Mucciolo), a daughter of Athena, a strong leader offering Percy direction. Rosenberg and Mucciolo sparkle with robust voices and heartfelt performances.
A campy moment happens when Clarisse, one of the demigods at Camp Blood, (Mairead Camas) tries to harm Percy, but he is saved when the toilet he is hiding in sprays her with water. Camas with a glint in her eye makes for a menacing villain.
Peter J. Osterman is dynamic, taking on several roles including Percy’s Latin teacher Mr. Brunner who assists him at several pivotal points and is frightfully delightful as Auntie Em. In the role of Percy’s mother Sally, Ayana Franck gives a tour de force performance. Her vocals reminiscent of Aretha Franklin are powerful and her portrayal as the mother who will do anything even sacrifice herself for her son is gripping.
Rounding out the cast is David Reyes as Luke the son of Hermes who entices Percy to go on the quest that will take him to the Underworld where he will find his mom. Reyes turns in a polished performance with his smooth stage presence and compelling vocals. But is his character friend or foe? Only time will tell.
Assisting in visual effects are the fantastic costumes by Carmela Newman including Grover’s fur appendages for legs, a specter draped in white gauze wings outlined with electric lights and Auntie Em’s green satin robe trimmed in black fur. Julie Stewart’s choreography keeps the energy high and the action is enhanced by thrilling sword play sequences compliments of Heather Legnosky. In addition to directing the show, Robbie Torres takes on musical direction orchestrating an exuberant audio track accompaniment.
SPAC’s action-packed The Lightning Thief grasps you right from the start and doesn’t let go until the final note is sung. This is truly a feast for the entire family.
The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical through Oct. 29. Tickets are $40, $35 seniors, $25 students. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.