Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series was one of my absolute favourites aged thirteen, and even though I’m now unfortunately now all grown up, I still look back at those books fondly. They’re fun and engaging with intricate plotting, well-developed characters, and a fascinating take on Greek mythology. They also seem like they would be the perfect stories to adapt, and this is where the trouble starts.
Like a lot of people my age, I remember vividly coming out of the Lightning Thief film adaptation disappointed. The film ignored the plot of the books, aged up the characters, rewrote key parts of the mythology and mostly was just… bad. I even went to see the second one, I was so desperate for them to be good! (It wasn’t). I resigned myself to accept that there was never going to be a good adaptation of this series, and that new kids discovering the books would have to settle for Rick Riordian’s (seemingly endless) spin-off novels and new mythology-based books.
Until, one fateful day early last year, I saw someone tweeting about The Lightning Thief musical. My initial reaction was suspicion, after all, I had been scorned before and I’ve never been able to watch a Logan Lerman film the same way. Plus, it kind of feels like there’s a musical about everything these days, and not all are as good as others. At first, the opening number confirmed my doubts, it has a little too much exposition for my taste (literally starting ‘The gods are real/Like, the Greek gods’), but soon started to pick up and prove itself to be an absolute delight.
Obviously it’s a very different experience watching a musical to simply listening to the soundtrack, and it is possible that the staging or the acting might be a complete deal-breaker. This is worth bearing in mind especially because the production is rumoured to be pretty sparse, with only six actors, most playing multiple roles, and minimal sets. Even if visually it doesn’t work, I’d recommend closing your eyes and jamming to the music.
Massive credit is deserved for the inclusion of different musical styles, from more soulful songs like D.O.A to more alt-rock numbers like Put You in Your Place. Rob Rokicki expertly incorporates reoccurring themes as well as managing harmonies between the three main characters. There’s also a pretty good balance between speaking and singing in the songs – especially considering how a fair few songs need to cover a lot of plot. If the lyrics get a bit overly simplistic, it’s worth remembering that it is based on a children’s book and obviously meant to be a family-friendly musical.
Where the musical really shines is its commitment to its characters. Sally (Percy’s mum) and Annabeth both get solo songs, fleshing out their motivations and backgrounds, whilst keeping you invested in the plot. Percy is given the defiant yet heroic character arc he deserves. Percy’s solo son (Good Kid) is one of my favourites, as it does a masterful job at summing up Percy’s resentment with how adults perceive him (I swear that I’m a good kid/Guess I’m good for nothing at all), and the way children feel out of control of their own lives. When you hear the theme from this song in Son of Poseidon, the climactic number, it genuinely makes me a little emotional, and when it’s echoed and twisted by the villain it gives me chills.
Some of the highlights are the songs where all three main characters chime in, perfectly illustrating their friendship, complete with bickering, backing each other up and providing most of the humour in the musical. Most of all, they make convincing kids, brave enough to be protagonists of a quest narrative, realistically rebellious against their absent parents and often just really, really funny.
The Lightning Thief is well worth checking out, even if just to relive your childhood or if (like me) you’re still bitter about films that came out a decade ago.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical full soundtrack is available to listen to now.