Alright, I’m not going to pretend I’m not upset here. I spent this morning reading some of the reviews of the Broadway production of “The Lightning Thief Musical” and just found myself really frustrated.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. Not everyone likes the same things, and that’s completely fine. However, I noticed a trend in the negative reviews for this show, and I wanted to talk about it (plus give my thoughts on the show as well).
I’ve seen versions of “The Lightning Thief Musical” three times now. I saw the reunion concert after the off-broadway premier in 2017. I saw the off-broadway tour when it came to NY last March. And just last month I saw “The Lightning Thief Musical” in previews on Broadway.
Needless to say, I think I’ve seen it enough to have an opinion on it. And unlike the reviewers who have been trashing it, I’ve also read the source material and seen previous adaptations.
I love this musical. It’s charming, cute, funny, and even able to bring a tear to your eye (don’t talk to me about “Tree on the Hill”- I will cry). It’s very faithful to the books and will make you completely forget about that mess of a movie. That said, “The Lightning Thief” may not be for everyone. The source material is a middle grade book series. It’s target audience is young, and you can tell. However, this story can be just as compelling for adults as long as you go into it with an open mind.
Also, I just want to mention how amazing this cast is. It’s a small cast, with only 7 people. All but 2 of them (the actors playing Percy and Annabeth) play multiple roles. They embody these characters in a way I never thought could be possible. Each member of the cast is absolutely fantastic. Chris McCarrel (Percy), Kristen Stokes (Annabeth), and Jorrel Javier (Grover) portray the nuances of their characters so well, I honestly can’t imagine anyone else playing them. The rest of the cast is equally stunning, each of them adding so much to the show.
Read more to see me address specific complaints I’ve noticed
(I’m looking at you, New York Times and Theatermania reviews)
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Okay, now that I’ve got my personal opinions out of the way, let’s address some of the complaints I’ve noticed in professional reviews:
1. The effects aren’t worth the money / don’t reach the standards of a typical Broadway show
I won’t deny it, this production definitely feels like it has a small budget. The effects are minimal and require a bit of your imagination, but I believe it adds to the charm and tone of the show. The Percy Jackson books have so much magic, it would be impossible to accurately depict them on stage.
I know, I know. I can hear you saying: “But “The Cursed Child”-“. I don’t care. These are two completely different shows, with two completely different tones and worlds. Yes, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” has great effects, but it’s a darker, more serious story that prides itself in immersing the audience in the world. “The Lightning Thief” is a more lighthearted, fun adventure that’s goal is to stay faithful to the source material while keeping the sense of humor the fans love. The Percy Jackson series is not an easy one to adapt (I mean, look at how badly the movies messed it up), and the musical team had to choose between looking realistic and risk the effects don’t mesh well with the tone, or having cheesy and cheap effects that reinforce the lighthearted and personal tone.
Some shows have breathtaking practical effects that aim to impress you and make you wonder how it’s possible. “The Lightning Thief Musical” isn’t that. No, this show is a personal story being told by friends who are hoping to give you a glimpse into this world they live in. The Percy Jackson books start with Percy addressing the reader, and musical Percy does the same, the opening number having him introduce his life and his world to the audience, and inviting us to hear his story. This isn’t characters living out real events before our eyes, it’s characters recreating their story, trying to share it with us however they can.
2. “Dear Evan Hansen”/”The Cursed Child” is so much better!
I can’t tell you how many reviews I’ve seen comparing “The Lightning Thief” to those two I mentioned above. I just don’t get it. It seems the only teen/tween-targeted shows these professional reviewers can come up with are those, so they feel the need to talk about how different “The Lightning Thief” is. Yes, it’s different. It’s a completely different genre! “Dear Evan Hansen” and “The Cursed Child” have completely different goals, and completely different tones. “Dear Evan Hansen” is a musical following a teen, yes, but it’s a drama. Yeah there’s a few jokes in there but it’s ultimate goal is to make you cry. “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child” is based on a series of middle grade novels, yes, but also no? It’s a continuation of that series strictly for the stage, not an adaptation of a previously written book, so you can’t compare it there. Also, once again, not quite the same tone. “The Cursed Child” is a coming of age story in a magical world, yes, but it’s far more serious in tone and once again, more of a drama than anything else! “The Lightning Thief Musical” is not a drama. There are some dramatic parts (like I said, “Tree on the Hill” really hurt me), but outside of being a coming of age fantasy story, it’s a comedy.
These comparisons are like me saying “Legally Blonde” is nothing compared to “Les Miserables”. They are two drastically different shows with drastically different goals. If you don’t understand that teen media is has sub-genres and nuance, then maybe you shouldn’t be reviewing it.
Also, I’ve noticed once again a rise in people saying that Percy Jackson is a rip off of Harry Potter. Conveniently, most of these people haven’t read the Percy Jackson series. Let me just say one thing: Books are allowed to share tropes. Percy Jackson and Harry Potter share the “Chosen One/Prophecy” trope (which don’t even come into play until later Percy Jackson books), one boy and one girl friend, a world of magic the protagonist never knew he was a part of, and the protagonist himself being a young boy who ages with the series. Guess what? J. K. Rowling didn’t invent these ideas, and her and Rick Riordan (the author of the Percy Jackson series) aren’t the only people in the world who have used them in their stories. You calling this book series out for copying Harry Potter only proves how little you’ve read of the middle grade genre and how ill-informed you truly are.
3. This show is about “whiny teens” / The large fanbase of teens and tweens, similar to that of “Be More Chill”
This is what made me go from “they don’t know what they’re talking about” to “wow they really hate teens”.
First- let’s break down that “whiny teen” complaint. I’ve seen some people call Percy whiny, angsty, and privileged, and I’m wondering if they ever were a kid or if they were just born old and bitter.
Be honest with yourself. Think of what Percy and all of the other characters have to go through in their stories, factor in how young they’re supposed to be, and tell me you would react any different. If Percy never complained or rebelled, people would instead be complaining that he’s too mature for the age he’s supposed to be. I just don’t understand why people watch something with a teen protagonist and then wonder why they’re acting like a teen? I see this all the time in YA book reviews and I just don’t understand it. If you don’t like how teenagers behave, maybe you shouldn’t be reviewing media focused on teens?
Okay, I need to move on from that before I get into a long rant. Instead, let’s rant about something else. In almost every bad review of “The Lightning Thief Musical” I’ve seen, they mentioned the huge online fanbase of rabid teens and tweens. Usually, they compare it to “Be More Chill”, and mention how that show only ran for six months on Broadway before closing.
You’re right. Having an online fanbase doesn’t necessarily mean success. And yes, teens and tweens may not have the money to go see the show. But you know who does? Their family members that are asking them what they want for their birthday or Christmas. Which not only means that these teens and tweens will be sitting in the audience, but the families they’re bringing with them. Not to mention, this show is a lot more kid friendly than “Be More Chill”, meaning parents looking for something to do in the city can take their younger kids to go see it. And I promise, those kids will love it. I can’t count the amount of giddy kids with their eyes practically glued to the stage there were when I went to see it last month.
Having a large audience of teens and tweens doesn’t automatically mean ticket sales will plummet. I mean, look at “Beetlejuice”, and “Dear Evan Hansen” (since reviewers love bringing that one up). These shows are as big as they are because teens and tweens online loved them.
The truth is, I think these reviewers don’t like Broadway becoming such a popular thing with younger audiences. They’re losing that sense of elitism that comes with Broadway. It used to be for the rich and famous- only those who are cultured can truly appreciate it- but now most middle schoolers have their favorite Broadway Cast Album memorized.
Not only that, let’s talk about reviews of teen media as a whole. People have always loved to look down on whatever kids are enjoying, whether it be the trending teen drama show, the latest YA book craze, the newest comic book movie, or the top songs on the charts. If teens and tweens are enjoying it, society is saying it isn’t good. I think that’s what’s happening here. This show has gained a cult following of teens and tweens, and people feel like they have to distance themselves from it and shut it down.
Time to Wrap This Rant Up
I’ve gone on for a bit too long and I’m tired so let’s just stop here.
People are allowed to have different opinions. In fact, I encourage it! If you don’t like “The Lightning Thief” because the music isn’t your speed, or you’re not a fan of the genre as a whole, fine. You do you. But I can’t sit here silently when people are trashing something when they don’t even know what their talking about, and their motivations seem less about honestly critiquing something and more about ripping apart something popular with teens.
There are a lot more things I would love to pick apart – the complaints that Annabeth is brushed to the side and that Percy is a mediocre main character (what show were you watching???) – but I really do need to stop.
I know this is a book blog and this isn’t what I normally talk about, but I figured it’s book-adjacent, so it counts. If you want to see me talk (or really rant, in this case) about more musicals, let me know!
Have you seen “The Lightning Thief Musical”? Do you want to??
Also, what’s your favorite musical?