Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Although I had heard the name Percy Jackson, I was not aware of what a phenomenon the Percy Jackson books are. They are a series of five young adult novels that have sold tens of millions of copies and spawned two movies and a Disney TV series that is scheduled to air in 2023. Sort of an American "Harry Potter" saga, but with Greek mythology instead of wizardry. Rick Riordan, the author of the novels, is famous enough to have been a final "Jeopardy" question in April 2020. Answer: "Publishers Weekly has dubbed this former middle school English teacher turned bestselling author 'Storyteller of the Gods'." Question: "Who is Rick Riordan?" I remember this because I had never heard of him at the time.
His name should have been familiar to me, though, because the musical based on the first book, The Lightning Thief, ran on Broadway in 2019. The original version premiered Off-Broadway in 2014, went through some retooling and touring before reaching Broadway, where it ran for 15 weeks. A post-Broadway national tour was supposed to start in late 2020, but of course that didn't happen.
The premise of the Percy Jackson books is that the gods of ancient Greece did not die just because people stopped believing in them. Randy as ever, they keep mating with humans, producing demigod offspring (here called "half-bloods"). Percy, in his early teens, has no idea that his father is a god. All he knows is that he doesn't fit in at school and in society. He has dyslexia and ADHD and has been expelled from six schools in six years. It later is explained to him that his learning difficulties are due to his brain being hard-wired to think in ancient Greek, not English.
Eventually, his loving mother decides it is time for him to go to Camp Half-Blood, a summer retreat for children of the gods. For a reason that is not clear to me, some divinity wants Percy dead because he's the son of one of the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades–but which one?) Gorgons are sent to kill him more than once, but Percy has powers he never knew he had.
Someone has stolen Zeus's lightning bolt, and if it is not returned, the gods will be at war. Percy and two half-blood friends, Annabeth and Grover, go on a quest to find the lightning bolt and, not coincidentally, to discover who Percy's father is. The second half of the play is a riff on "The Odyssey," including a visit to the underworld and a stay at the Lotus Hotel in Las Vegas.
If you are a Greek mythology fan, like I am, it's a lot of fun. Even if you don't know anything about Greek mythology, it's still a lot of fun.
The musical's book, by Joe Tracz, is witty and at times even touching. The music and lyrics are by Rob Rokicki. As in most contemporary musicals, the music is forgettable, but the lyrics are clever. Since the music is often fast, the lyrics go by so quickly it's difficult to catch every word, but you get the gist.
Devon Frieder produces, directs, choreographs, and appears in this show. Every year, she gifts Albuquerque with a musical in January. I'm glad the show wasn't cancelled by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. (See? Ancient Greek is still a part of our lives!) Devon did have to make a major concession to the state of New Mexico regulation that everyone indoors has to be masked. Not only the audience, but all the performers have to wear masks. We only get to see the top halves of their faces, but I got used to it quickly and paid more attention than I usually do to how much body language contributes to acting.
The performances by the cast of fifteen are uniformly excellent. Several of the actors (Lando Ruiz, Rikki Carroll, Weston Simons, Walker Stovall, Jillian Foster, Westin Huffman, and others) play more than one role, and are almost unrecognizable in their various parts, thanks to the terrific costuming by Diane Baca. Christopher Decker plays Percy perfectly–a little nerdy, maybe somewhere on the spectrum, confused by life, and totally charming. Strong support is given by Devon Frieder as Annabeth, Dakotah Lopez as Grover, and Collin Romero as Luke. There's not a huge amount of dancing, but there's a good amount of physical comedy, and it's all very well done.
It was such a joy for me to be back in a theater, seeing a live musical, after such a long theater drought. If you've been hankering for the return of live theater in 2022, this is a great show to start the year with.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, presented by Devon Frieder Productions, runs through February 6, 2022, at Musical Theatre Southwest, 6320 Domingo Road NE, Albuquerque AZ. For tickets, please visit purplepass.com. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/DevonFriederProductions.