Can lightning strike twice for Percy Jackson? The 2005 teen novel by Rick Riordan turned 2010 movie directed by Chris Columbus has been transformed once again. This time into a touring action-packed rock musical taking the nation by storm.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is based on the best-selling Disney Hyperion book by Riordan. But Disney Theatrical Productions is not involved with the show. The stage adventure deemed “worthy of the gods,” is produced by a collaboration of groups including TheaterWorksUSA, Martian Entertainment, and Glass Half Full Productions in partnership with The Road Company.
The show was first introduced to audiences by TheaterWorksUSA in 2014 as part of its free theater series. It was a one-hour presentation with a small cast. In 2017, a brand-new version with a new score, an updated and expanded script including a second act, a larger cast and a live band hit the road for a limited run.
Originally premiering off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in Manhattan's West Village, The Lightning Thief was embraced by audiences and critics alike and was nominated for three Drama Desk Awards.
For actors Chris McCarrell and Kristin Stokes, lighting indeed has struck twice as they once again step into the shoes of Percy Jackson and Annabeth respectively. Both originated their roles in the off-Broadway production. Two other actors from the original show have also joined the touring production with Sarah Beth Pfeifer reprising her role as Clarice and James Hayden Rodriguez as Luke.
The premise of the story is that the Greek gods are very real and they are ruining Percy Jackson's life. He lives with his mother and his mother's boyfriend. McCarrell notes Percy is “kinda in a single parent situation, he has some learning problems, he has ADHD, dyslexia, he gets in trouble at school a lot because crazy things happen to him.” McCarrell explains “when I say crazy I mean substitute teachers sprout wings and attack him on a field trip to a museum.” Needless to say not your typical day on a school-sanction excursion.
“As we go on, we figure why these abnormal things are happening to him, because of his background and past is very abnormal and it comes out during the show that Percy is actually the son of a Greek god,” McCarrell reveals.
As a son of Poseidon, Percy discovers his has powers he cannot control while trying to fight off monsters on his trail. Percy and friends find themselves on a mission to find Zeus' lightning bolt and prevent a war between the gods. McCarrell shares that “Zeus' lightning bolt is missing and this poor kid who is living a normal life a few weeks ago is now on a quest to prove that he himself did not steal Zeus' lightning bolt. It goes from zero to one-hundred very quickly in Percy's life.”
After McCarrell and Stokes were cast in the show both admit that they went back to the books to immerse themselves in their respective characters.
Neither actor was familiar with the Disney-Hyperion series of books prior to landing parts in the show. McCarrell confesses that he was not a “huge reader growing up because I was a theater kid. So when you got home from rehearsal the last thing you need to do is escape into a story. My entire day was escaping into stories.” Stokes admits that “the first time I heard about this I just randomly had an audition appointment. This was like when the audition was getting its first workshop so zero hype, zero anything.”
“I didn't know how much I was like Percy Jackson until I was actually cast,” confesses McCarrell. “I read the book after I was cast and was getting ready for the show.” The actor says, “while reading it I was realizing how much my DNA was already shared with this character. So it comes very naturally to me, which makes my job easier.”
Both McCarrell and Stokes, who are in their 20's, concede that they are playing characters much younger than themselves. “It is an adolescent story,” declares McCarrell. “It's almost easier to play something that you've been through where you have some time to look back on it. I feel I can play an adolescent because I have a window of time that I've processed what it means to be that. I'm comfortable with that now which makes the more uncomfortable side of playing young feel much easier to do.” He laughs, “this kid is in my bones.”
McCarrell beams he loves the opportunity to play young. “I live for this stuff. It was always the challenge. Give me an iconic character, make me sing to the rafters every nite, while I am sword fighting the god of war. That is the perfect challenge for me.”
Stokes reflects the musical is about heart and not age. “The story has just so much heart, everyone can find themselves in the story whether you're a child, a young adult or an adult. I think everyone sees themselves and we really want people to walk away with thinking that. That the things that make you different are the things that make you strong.”
The actress adds that she is thrilled to chart the course for her character Annabeth. “I love to originate roles. I love to be the first person to get my stamp on it because, you're alone on this rocket ship, you're making up the role so to speak. Luckily I have this fantastic source material of the book.”
This dynamic extravaganza will rock your world and the underworld. The national tour launched January 4th at the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is a journey that will take it on a 24 city engagement across the United States and Canada. The production will make a return limited engagement at The Beacon Theatre in New York City March 38th through the 31st.