Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & the Olympians stories seem tricky to transform into a stage musical.
It's a world of Greek gods and monsters -- and kids with myriad "issues," many of them surrounding the fact that those gods are their absentee and, at times, manipulative parents. It's also the province of dedicated fans who have their own mental pictures of what the Jackson universe should look like in the flesh, and who weren't entirely convinced by the 2010 film adaptation.
But "The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" sidesteps those potential pitfalls, in myriad ways. Chief among those is Northville native Joe Tracz's script, which strikes the right tone as it keeps the origin story moving and deftly truncates the events of the first Jackson book. Die-hards may miss the nuance and details, not unlike fans of the Harry Potter books and their films, but Tracz's treatise encapsulates the story in a succinct, all ages-accessible manner and accents the book's central themes of identity, isolation, alienation and self-realization.
"The Lightning Thief" musical, which debuted off-Broadway during March of 2017 and was written in the midst of 2016's charges presidential election, also comes off as a piece of its times. As Jackson and his Camp Half-Breed demigod friends come to the end of an eventful summer, they sing that, "Out there in the real world, that's where the monsters are," echoing the Resist movement as they declare, "Bring on the monsters! Bring on the real world!"
Rob Rokicki's songs, meanwhile, skew stage conventions for a Vans Warped Tour's worth of angsty but tuneful rock, especially effective when the demigod kids are complaining about their parents. And no music fan could resist "D.O.A.," a Welcome to Hell anthem sung with Gloria Gaynor assurance by Jalynn Steele as Charon, the usher of the underworld. A clever and relatively thrifty production -- toilet paper roll shooters, confetti guns, puppet monsters, just one costume throughout for Chris McCarrell's Jackson -- insures the focus stays entirely on the story.
And then there's the acting, by a small cast of seven that works with the precision and well-practiced camaraderie of a nimble sports team. McCarrell and Kristen Stokes (Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena), who originated their roles Off-Broadway, are solid and commanding leads, but the real marvels are their castmates who play multiple roles -- two of which, James Hayden Rodriguez and Sarah Beth Pfeifer, also remain from the original production. Ryan Knowles shifts effortlessly from the stiff Mr. Bruner to the prancing Chiron and a Poseidon -- Percy's father -- drawn straight out of "Beach Blanket Bingo." Jorrel Javier is convincingly earnest, and nerdy, as best pal Grover Underwood and a stitch as Camp Half-Breed's grumpy director Dionysus, while Steele scores as an adult (Percy's mom Sally) and camper (Silena Beauregard) among her other roles.
"The Lightning Thief" is not the end of the Percy Jackson story, of course. Riordan wrote four other books in the series, and at the end of the musical Percy promises that he'll be back to Camp Half-Breed next summer. Hopefully it won't take too many seasons for that return to take place on stage.
"The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical" runs through March 9 at the Fisher Theatre 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. $49 and up. 313-872-1000 or broadwayindetroit.com.
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