On Stage: Percy Jackson comes to Philly stage

By Denny DyroffEntertainment Editor, The Times

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical

Fans of Percy Jackson are elated with the new show that is coming to Philadelphia this week.

“Percy Jackson & the Olympians,” often shortened to “Percy Jackson,” is a pentalogy of fantasy adventure novels written by American author Rick Riordan, and the first book series in the Camp Half-Blood Chronicles. Five supplementary books, along with three graphic novels, have also been released. More than 45 million copies of the books have been sold in more than 35 countries.

From January 22-27, the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org) is presenting “The Lightning Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical” as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway Philadelphia series.

“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is a 2017 musical with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, and a playbook by Joe Tracz. Based on the 2005 fantasy-adventure novel of the same name, the musical follows Percy Jackson, a teenager who discovers that he is the son of gods and suddenly has powers he can’t control. The teen goes on an epic quest to find Zeus’ missing lightning bolt and prevent a war between the Greek gods.

Chris McCarrell (Percy) and Kristin Stokes (Annabeth) reprise their roles from the Off-Broadway run, under the direction of Stephen Brackett (“Be More Chill”) with orchestrations by Rokicki and Wiley Deweese and choreography by Patrick McCollum (“The Band’s Visit”). Rounding out the cast are Izzy Figueroa, Jorrel Javier, Ryan Knowles, Sam Leicht, Sarah Beth Pfeiffer, James Hayden Rodriguez, Jalynn Steele, and T. Shyvonne Stewart.

“I’ve been involved with the show since the star,” said Stokes, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Charleotte, North carolina. “I was with it through the workshops, a school tour, Off-Broadway and workshops to bring it to the two-hour version.

“I was very lucky to be part of the original workshop five years ago – figuring out how do we create all this stuff. That was back at the end of 2013.”

After it was introduced in New York City by Theatreworks USA in 2014 as a one-hour musical and went into a national tour, it was announced in January 2017 that a new version would be produced, with a new score and an updated, expanded script. The musical would have a limited run, with performances beginning on March 23, an opening set for April 4 and a last performance on May 6 on the Lucille Lortel Theatre. The show announced its national tour, set to debut in Chicago in 2019, on April 17, 2018.

“Theatreworks USA’s original intention was for a one-hour touring show to take to different schools and also present in New York City as free summer theater for kids,” said Stokes. “A few months later, Theatreworks USA did a mini-tour. It already had a series of one-hour shows based on children’s novels. ‘Percy Jackson’ was such a hit that Theatreworks USA decided to take it out as a full-length musical.”

For those unfamiliar with the “Percy,” the story centers on Percy who discovers that he is demi-god. His mother conceived him with Poseidon. Percy, who suffers from dyslexia and ADHD, is sent to a summer camp for similar “half-bloods.” There, he meets the feisty Annabeth (daughter of Athena), Grover (a happy-go-lucky satyr) and Dionysus (the god of wine). The plot involves Percy and his new friends’ efforts to prevent a war among the Greek gods and find Zeus’ missing lightning bolt.

“Percy never takes it too seriously,” said Stokes. “He fights monsters – but he also has ADHD. That sparks the imagination of the cast and the audience. It sets the scene. It says to the audience – we’re going to take you on a wild ride. The story at its heart is about a boy wanting to get back to his mother.”

Theater fans who are not familiar with Percy Jackson still will be able to enjoy a fun, lively production.

“Whether they know the Percy books or not, most people are familiar with Greek myths,” said Stokes, a graduate of Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts. “I wasn’t familiar with Percy Jackson before I auditioned for it. I wasn’t sure what I was getting in for. Now, I’ve read the entire first five books. They are young adult novels about growing up and dealing with angst. This show is based on the first book.

“Friends of the cast have come to see the show. Their response has been that they were surprised and really enjoyed it,” said Stokes, a native of Fremont, California. “In this show, there is something for everyone. Besides, who can’t relate back to their adolescence.”

Video link for “The Lightning Thief – The Percy Jackson Musical” – https://youtu.be/vkYxgC_aaJ0.

The show at the Merriam Theater is running now through January 27. Ticket prices range from $29-$99.

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