By Shannon Magsam
Now that we’ve met the cast and crew of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, we’re even more pumped to see the show this weekend at Walton Arts Center.
Each person we chatted with on the set last week exuded a boundless energy and professionalism. There’s also a steady supply of joy among the cast and crew, an emotion director Stephen Brackett said he works hard to foster.
“It’s important for me to make joyful spaces,” he said on Friday, sitting at a hightop table in the Walton Arts Center lobby.
As the director, Brackett has the immense pleasure – and pressure — of bringing the beloved Lightning Thief book to life on stage. (FYI, super fans of the Percy Jackson books will find a few Easter eggs during the show. Woo-hoo!)
Northwest Arkansas is the first stop on the musical’s national tour and they’ve been working hard for a week building the set and getting ready to take the show on the road through mid-July.
Brackett said the stage in New York City was small and intimate, but they’ve got to get ready for the big stages they’ll encounter across the country.
He said Walton Arts Center’s stage is the perfect size.
Gwen and I got to know (every) song in this musical last year — after our teenagers introduced us to the rockin’ score. Basically, some of the songs from the Off-Broadway show hit YouTube in 2017 and went viral. Then the cast recorded a release, which was wildly popular.
Half of the actors we met Friday were in the sold-out Off-Broadway production in 2017 and the other half are new, added in the past few months to start the national tour.
We had the best time interviewing the actors who play Annabeth (Kristin Stokes), Percy (Chris McCarrell) and Grover (Jorrel Javier), the intrepid trio that pursues a lightning thief to help save the world – while dodging mythological monsters along their journey.
We asked each who they’d pick as their “god” parent if they were half-bloods in real life.
The actor who plays Percy – whose father in the musical is Poseidon, the Greek god of the sea — said he’d choose Zeus since he’d love to be in charge of the weather. Ironically, the actor is fearful of the ocean.
He laughed, noting, “That’s one big thing that differentiates me from Percy.”
Speaking of different, there’s a reason so many kids and teenagers love the Percy Jackson books and the musical. Many are keenly aware of how, at that age in particular, you can feel like an outlier in school and life.
The actor who plays Grover (a half-goat, half-human who’s Percy’s guardian) said the Percy Jackson books got him through junior high. He said he always felt a little “too much” and he loved how the books embraced those who didn’t always fit in, like Percy.
Rick Riordan, who wrote the Percy Jackson books, came up with the series after years of making up stories for his son, who has ADHD and dyslexia.
In the end, the characters found strength in their idiosyncrasies, Grover (Javier) noted. Grover said that’s what motivates him when he needs a boost after a full schedule of singing and acting.
Both Grover and Percy said their show stamina comes from “muscle memory” and that they learned endurance as musical theatre majors in college.
Annabeth (Stokes) said she uses oregano capsules to help keep her voice in good shape.
After interviewing the actors, we got to take a trip backstage to see all the props, wigs and behind-the-scenes action.
While on the tour, I got the unique honor or trying on the Medusa head. It was fabulous.
There was one box that we weren’t allowed to take pictures of, but we did peek inside. We think you’ll be thrilled to see the contents on stage.
Percy/Chris said the show isn’t hugely different from the one in New York, but he did note that the beginning is darker and scarier.
We can’t wait.
Audiences in Northwest Arkansas will have the first chance to see the national tour of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical when it comes to Walton Arts Center on Friday, Jan. 4 at 7 pm and Saturday, Jan. 5 at 2 and 8 pm. Single tickets start at $25 plus applicable fees. Tickets can be purchased in-person at the Walton Arts Center Box Office, by calling 479.443.5600 or by visiting waltonartscenter.org.