"The gods are real!" shouts Luke, the son of Hermes, as he dashes onstage. He's talking about the gods of ancient Greece — Poseidon, Hades, and the rest of them — who are about to go to war with one another in the fast-paced, family-oriented show The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, now running at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.
If the title sounds familiar, that's because the show ran at the Lortel almost three years ago in an hour-long version that has since been touring the country. This new production has added 60 minutes and at least half a dozen songs to fill in some of the characters' back stories and enhance the life lessons learned by Percy Jackson, played with humor and charm by Chris McCarrell, as he discovers that what makes him different is what makes him powerful.
Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki based their musical on Rick Riordan's popular novel about that troubled teen, who lives with his loving mom (Carrie Compere) and her deadbeat boyfriend (James Hayden Rodriguez in one of many well-performed roles). Percy's not a great student (his dyslexia and A.D.H.D. make learning a challenge), and he hangs out with other kids who don't fit in, like Grover (George Salazar). He does, however, have the occasional confrontation with a monster, like the substitute teacher who turns into a winged Fury in the show's opening number, "The Day I Got Expelled."
Then he has a strange dream that transports him to Camp Half-Blood, where he learns (in "The Campfire Song") that he and a bunch of other kids, including Grover and Annabeth (Kristin Stokes, one of the original cast members), have a deity for a parent. With these two friends, Percy has to race from New Jersey to California (where the entrance to Hades is located) to discover who stole Zeus' lightning bolt and prevent a battle of the gods.
As he did with the original, director Stephen Brackett keeps this two-hour show moving at warp speed, one song after another advancing the plot and hysterical performances filling the gaps in between. Salazar brings the house down in "Another Terrible Day" with his hilarious portrayal of the surprisingly high-strung Mr. D (short for Dionysus, the god of wine). Jonathan Raviv gets big laughs as the centaur Chiron and the god Poseidon, while Compere delivers the showstopper "D.O.A." as the brash, sequin-dressed ferry conductor Charon, raising the roof with her fabulous soprano.
Along with the music, the show's special effects will captivate young and old. David Lander's mesmerizing lighting gives the smoke-filled theater a magical, mysterious atmosphere on Lee Savage's inspired set of Greek columns tagged with graffiti. Ryan Rumery's ominous sound design blends with this otherworldly feel even between the acts, with rumbling thunder foreshadowing the danger that awaits the three friends.
The Lightning Thief, now in this pumped-up version, is a great show to get kids 8 and up engaged with a full-length live theater production. As at the performance I attended years ago, the response of younger audience members at curtain call was deafening. Looks like lightning can strike twice.
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