Chris McCarrell and Ryan Knowles talk bringing beloved book series to the stage
A family-friendly musical worthy of the Gods. It’s a different spin on the classic young hero, all thanks to author Rick Riordan, who authored the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, where readers meet 12-year-old Percy Jackson, who discovers he is a son of Greek God Poseidon. And if you love the books, you’ll love to watch it come to life in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.
“I love how Percy’s not the normal hero you see on stage; instead, he’s a young kid who has these learning disabilities, ADHD and dyslexia and comes from a broken household,” said Chris McCarrell, who plays Percy Jackson. “The empowerment he finds in himself at the end of the show is something that I and a lot of younger audiences relate to. He’s not the strapping Herculean guy that everyone roots for. Percy stumbles his way through life’s hardships and discovers he has much more power within him than he thought.”
For McCarrell, who grew up in Ohio and studied at the Baldwin Wallace University: Conservatory of Music in Cleveland, playing Percy was like seeing a version of his younger self talking to the audience. The musical, which was Off Broadway in 2017 and recently made the jump to the Great White Way, is yet another example of books to Broadway, which McCarrell has been a part of since he toured with the original cast.
“What’s exciting to me is bringing a new audience to Broadway. A lot of fans of the books have been coming to our show, but it’s such a crossover that hasn’t been explored enough. When you love books, you create a world inside your head,” said McCarrell of the introverted artistic process. “Theater is such a communal environment and for kids who come to see it and say that it’s their first Broadway show, that’s the beginning of witnessing magic on stage.”
McCarrell shared that his favorite scene is the last one, the final anthem where the cast sings “Bring On The Monsters,” which he describes as “a call to action for young-hearted people in the world to step off the sidelines and become engaged with society around you.”
Igniting the kid in all of us is what a musical like this is meant to do, and Ryan Knowles, who plays Percy’s teacher Chiron, who happens to be a centaur, among a slew of other characters, agrees.
“It’s great fun to play a centaur every night,” said Knowles of Chiron. “He’s such a great and steady character. Chiron is a nice calm balance to all the craziness and monsters in the story.”
A history buff, Knowles was born and raised in Southern California but has called Manhattan home for the last 19 years. His first ever role came as Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka at a children’s community theatre in Whittier, CA, and he was immediately hooked on performing. The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is Knowles’ Broadway debut.
“Greek mythology greatly interests me. They’re the most amazing stories and they’re pretty much the archetypes for every story that came after it,” said Knowles on his love of Greek literature. “It’s wonderful to see this adaptation’s journey to the stage, that I think is incredibly faithful to the book. So if someone enjoyed the Percy Jackson books, they’ll love the show.”
Knowles’ favorite scene is watching the characters interact with Hades in the underworld. Of Hades, Knowles said that “he’s such a fun character who is angry and petty, yet still an all-powerful god with such maniac energy and a comical outlook.”
In terms of live action, there have only been two movies made from the series’ first two books: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013). The Broadway show’s 16-week limited run ends Jan. 5, making it the perfect gift for the young Greek mythology lover in your life.
“It’s a powerful story with an incredible message for people of all ages, said Knowles. “It’s a high-energy comedic adventure with tons of heart that doesn’t slow down until the final curtain falls.”
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is currently playing at the Longacre Theatre, 220 W 48th St., New York. For tickets and showtimes, visit www.lightningthiefmusical.com.