Percy Jackson Musical Outgrows Itself


(Courtesy of Facebook) The Percy Jackson Musical is a fun play for young kids.

To say I was excited to see “The Lightening Thief: The Percy Jackson the Musical,” which débuted at the Longacre Theater this summer, would be an understatement. Like many my age, I grew up with the books, enchanted by Percy’s action-packed crusade to the underworld. The young character’s anger at his father’s abandonment, struggles with varied learning disabilities and fears of inadequacy after learning he is a demi-god resonated with both the anxieties and hopes of adolescence.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film as well. While the book was richer and more imaginative than the movie, as books always are, I appreciated that the film portrayed an older Percy Jackson, partly because an 18-year-old Logan Lerman played the role, but also because I found the story grew with me. I cherished 12-year old Percy when I read the book and was equally impacted by teenage Percy when the film came out later on.

Unfortunately, I did not have the same experience with the Broadway musical. Instead I was left feeling uncomfortably wistful. It seemed that I had outgrown the story. This response was largely because of the show’s failure to pick a consistent age category. While many complained that the film upped the age of Percy and his entourage, it was done so universally; the film was a coherent depiction of young adulthood.

The Musical lacked this coherence, featuring a discordant bunch of characters. Annabeth, the tenacious daughter of Athena, had the maturity of a high school teenager. Annabeth provides the voice of reason to an often clueless Percy and maintained her composure on the characters perilous campaign to visit Hades. On the song “My Grand Plan” she explores the struggle of maintaining the archetypes expected of her because of her gender and relation to Athena.

Percy seemed far younger by comparison. He griped about his predicament, resentful of his grand and unsolicited responsibilities. The raw and candid angst that characterized Percy’s character in the book was cheapened by this whiney attitude and consistent sense of ignorance. His complaints about his father are characteristic of objections lobbied against embarrassing dad jokes rather than abandonment.

Grover seemed to be aged somewhere in between Annabeth and Percy. The character’s goofy nature loaned a youthfulness, while his resiliency throughout the journey still allowed for a relative maturity. The stark difference in the character’s perceived ages and subsequent sophistication resulted in a whip-lash-like effect. I was unable to resonate fully with Annabeth and her struggles to assert herself as a women without being labeled bossy because Percy’s character consistently required nostalgia for a different period in my life.

While the books and films allowed me to submerse myself in a 12-year old world and 16-year old world, respectively, and the unique strifes of each, the play asked audience members to sympathize with both. I wanted either a fun and lighthearted rendition of the story or a more emotionally charged exploration of the struggles of youth. “Percy Jackson The Musical” tried to accomplish both without successfully accomplishing either.

While this dichotomous character development is present in some of the songs, the best parts of the musical are when the cast establishes a united front. The best example of this is “The Campfire Song.” Here, the characters rest up after a day of fighting in Camp Half-Blood and bemoan the life of a demi-god, which often includes absent parents and godly expectations. The songs’ lighthearted attacks at the gods and their embarrassing actions provides a unity to the musical lacking in other places. Adolescents of all ages can relate the experience of being let down by their parents. Similarly, Percy’s timid and whispery inquiry as to whether his dad “did not want him or just not want the stress” is one of the few times his childish energy gives way to genuine vulnerability.

While the play did not live up to the legacy of the books or movie, it was still fun. When I went to the bathroom during intermission, a group of ten year olds were fanning over Percy and the other characters. The show was more for them than for me.