Arpita Ghosal is a Toronto-based arts writer. She founded Sesaya in 2004.
Gods almighty, Olympus is about to rock!
Yes, it’s true. The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is readying to descend at the Ed Mirvish Theatre for a weeklong run. For the uninitiated, this means you should expect gorgons, Fates and Furies . . . and that’s just for starters.
Yes – this a big deal! Ask a teen, teacher or parent who reads, and they’ll tell you that New York Times best-selling author (and former teacher) Rick Riordan conjures an enthralling world of everyday people in modern-day USA who live alongside gods and creatures from Greek mythology. The Lightning Thief famously began as a bedtime story for Riordan’s son, told over the course of three nights. At story’s end, Riordan’s son suggested that his father write it out as a book. That book led to a 5-book series, called Percy Jackson and the Olympians, which has since been followed by four additional series (one is still in progress) – all based on Greek mythology.
The stories initially gained traction through word-of-mouth recommendations among students, teachers and parents. Riordan reports on his website being surprised by the “exponential growth” of the books, which were not heavily marketed at the beginning. The one-time “grassroots phenomenon” became a sensation, selling more than 100 million copies of the book series worldwide. Its popularity stems from the juxtaposition of recognizable characters navigating a fantastical world that is right in their own backyard.
In particular, young people relate to the troubled and troublesome Percy. With his ADHD and a learning disability, he has been shuffled from school to school. Like many middle-schoolers, he feels like a misunderstood and unappreciated loner – at least until he discovers that heroic gifts can hide beneath herculean challenges. When push comes to shove – or when the misanthrope is sent on an epic quest – he musters the mettle needed to defeat, conquer and save the day.
Ultimately, with their empowering message and imaginatively-wrought world, Riordan’s books have assumed a quasi-sacrosanct mystique among much of the teen set. Fox Studio’s 2010 movie adaptation departed so markedly from the source that it enraged diehard fans, who plead with Riordan via his website to buy back the rights (sadly, reported impossible “at any price”). All this said . . . the new musical is a different beast entirely. The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical offers a rock-music interpretation that is faithful to its source. The Drama-Desk nominated musical features a book by Joe Tracz, and music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki. It is directed by Stephen Brackett, with choreography by Patrick McCollum. And the diverse cast includes Broadway’s Chris McCarrell in the title role, which he originated in the 2017 Off-Broadway production of The Lightning Thief. Kristin Stokes is Annabeth, a role she has also played since the show’s first workshop (including both Off-Broadway runs) and on the Original Cast Album. Marvelously, the other roles (numbering somewhere around 200) are played by just six actors!
Also remarkable is that the musical’s approach to portraying the fantastical elements of the story relies less on technical razzle-dazzle than inventive staging, which engages young imaginations and underscores the “hero in the everyday world” theme so integral to the story.
Promising dynamic, family-friendly fun with source material integrity, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is suitable for audiences 8 years of age and older. So why, you might ask, is it running the week after March Break? One week earlier, and the Toronto run might have sold out before it opened. Whatever the case, I’d argue that we should view the post-March Break run as fortuitous. After all, school students need something to look forward to after their too-short respite from classes. (And February’s Reading week is a distant memory for post-secondary students!) The musical runs a succinct 2 hours and starts on weeknights at 7:30pm, minimizing bedtime creep and next-morning crankiness. Finally, given the book’s enduring popularity, teachers might just want to tap into students’ interests and book a matinee excursion to tie the show into their curricular programming. (A general study guide is available as a starting point for activities connected to the show’s themes.)
So yes, gorgons, gods, and heroes of all kinds are readying themselves to rock the Ed Mirvish Theatre to the foundations. And Percy-ites can breathe easy that The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical will honour their misunderstood hero in ways that are inventive and faithful to the source they have come to love.
So bring on the monsters . . . it’s the perfect time for an epic journey!
News You Can Use
What: The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, Adapted from the best-selling Disney-Hyperion book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan; Book by Joe Tracz; Music & Lyrics by Rob Rokicki; Music Direction by Wiley Deweese; Choreographed by Patrick McCollum; Directed by Stephen Brackett
Performed by Chris McCarrell, Izzy Figueroa, Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Sam Leicht, Sarah Beth Pfeifer, James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele, T. Shyvonne Stewart, Kristin Stokes
Who: Audiences 8 years of age and older
When: March 19 – 24, 2019; Run time: 2 hours (including one intermission)
Where: Ed Mirvish Theatre, 244 Victoria Street, Toronto, ON
Curriculum Connections: Language, Social Studies, History, Drama and Dance
Themes: Belonging and Identity, Family and Loyalty, Persistence and Resilience, Language and Tradition, Appearance, Reality and Memory
Info and Tickets: Mirvish.com
© 2019 Arpita Ghosal, Sesaya / SesayArts Magazine