REVIEW: ‘The Lightning Thief’ cast steals the show

REVIEW: ‘The Lightning Thief’ cast steals the show

By Jay Berghuis

“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” brings an electric score and Olympic-sized talent to Chicago’s theater scene.

Directed by Stephen Brackett and starring Chris McCarrell in the title role, “The Lightning Thief” is unapologetically fun and well-written. The musical is playing at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., until Jan. 13. 

The show was adapted from the first book of Rick Riordan’s young adult book series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” which has captivated readers with its authentic humor and genuine pre-teen perspective for more than a decade. It focuses on the lives of half-bloods, children who were raised by one mortal parent and have found out their other parent is a Greek god.

This is a strange premise for a musical—or seems to be. 

The musical manages to capture the playful tone of the novels by not taking itself too seriously while highlighting unique, fleshed-out characters. Only 10 actors make up the cast, most of them playing more than one part. Despite the double casting, every character is nuanced, creative and funny.

The musical numbers feature impressive vocals from each cast member. Standout moments include “D.O.A.,” a soulful and upbeat song about death, as well as several ballads highlighting the emotional core of the musical. “Good Kid” and “My Grand Plan” are performed with soaring notes and raw emotion, showing a deeper chord underneath the lighthearted and fun musical. The music reveals undercurrents of complex relationships with parents, making big decisions for the first time and forging a sense of identity in a complicated world.

The minimalist set, including simple scaffolding and props like tree stumps and multipurpose lights, works well to keep the spotlight on the actors rather than distract the audience. The cast takes turns standing on the tree stumps for dramatic solos, while multicolored lights ascend the scaffolding during group numbers.

The wit of lyrics and dialogue is integral to the musical. Though the book characters are only 12, the musical’s choice to have them be ambiguously teenaged makes the musical accessible to the intended younger audience while remaining smart enough to crack up adults, too. Kids in the audience may have missed certain jokes—including word play on Furies, Greek mythical monsters and furries, those who dress up as animals for fun.

While many rock musicals might feel too serious and dramatic, “The Lightning Thief” combines its edgy score with wit and charm to create a production that feels new and innovative. The cast shines in every role, and the lighting design brings the characters’ environments to life. This musical marries goofiness with authenticity to create a show everyone will not only get a laugh out of but resonate with.