How This Duo Is Adapting The Lightning Thief Into a New Musical

Outside the Theatre   How This Duo Is Adapting The Lightning Thief Into a New Musical Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki open up about the making of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.
Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz
Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz Marc J. Franklin

Who: Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki
Outside: The Lucille Lortel Theatre

Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz
Rob Rokicki and Joe Tracz Marc J. Franklin

Tracz and Rokicki are the writers of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, set to begin performances March 23 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Adapted from the young adult fiction book of the same name by Rick Riordan, the story is centered on a young man who discovers he is the son of Gods, and suddenly has powers he can't control.

How long have the two of you been collaborating?
Rob Rokicki: It’s been five years now. This is our first and only project, though I keep trying to get him to write something else with me!
Joe Tracz: We will!

How did the two of you come together on this musical adaptation?
JT: I’ve been a fan of the Percy Jackson books since they first started coming out in the mid-2000s. I wasn’t a young adult [then], but I worked in bookstores and would go and read them in the break room. That’s when I fell in love with them. When I found out that Theatreworks had secured the rights to do their own version, I wanted to be the one to do the adaptation.
RR: The original idea was actually for The Lightning Thief to be a play, and Joe had written a really beautiful script.
JT: It became clear that The Lightning Thief wasn’t a play—the world of the Gods is so big and epic that it had to be a musical. Rob came highly recommended, and another co-collaborator of ours, Joe Iconis, put us in touch. He sent through some demo songs that just nailed the quirky, funny, dysfunctional, contemporary voice of the books, and it’s been a great working relationship ever since.

How have you negotiated the expectations from fans of the book series?
RR: It’s tricky because the fans are fiercely loyal to the books and every little detail. We know the pressure is on us to get the tone right, and to keep the big, beating heart [of the series]. I think the fans will be surprised with how much we actually pack into the show.
JT: We’re always going back to the book for lines [or references]. The earlier version of the show got a great fan response. I know [author] Rick Riordan gets letters and emails from people who are thrilled with the musical.

So you've met with the author of the series, Riordan?
JT: I met with him before we started. I was certainly nervous, as a huge fan of his. But sitting at dinner with him, and seeing how fast and furious his mind works, even hearing him talk, became a huge influence for how we wrote the show.

An original, hour-long version of the show was presented here in New York in 2014. Have you made a lot of changes since then?
JT: The show is very different [from] the hour-long version we did for Theatreworks USA earlier. We’ve written lots of new material!
RR: We love the smaller version, but this is basically a new show. We’ve been able to expand on the [core] idea that young people, or all people, have to find their own agency in the world. Gods, parents, or teachers may not have your best interests at heart, and you have to figure out your own moral compass. Sometimes that may be going against the establishment. It’s also about accepting your parents for who they are, which can be a heavy thing for people to deal with.

Do you think that’s why adolescent stories continue to resonate with adults, because we’re still learning to do that in adulthood?
JT: Totally. I was reading these books in my 20s, but was still figuring out what to do with my life. I’d technically come of age already, but the feeling that you’re living in someone else’s world never really goes away. Young adult fiction [depicts] that so well. In Lightning Thief, the Gods have created the world, but then vacated it to hang out at the top of the Empire State Building—leaving the rest of us to figure out where we fit in.

Tell me about finding Chris McCarrell to play the title role.
JT: He is Percy Jackson.
RR: Chris walked in the room and just nailed it. He just got it.
JT: Percy is someone who struggles with fitting in, and I think Chris is someone who gets the idea of someone who has to grow into heroism. He's also just so funny.

READ MORE: THE COLOR PURPLE’S CARRIE COMPERE COMPLETES CAST OF THE LIGHTNING THIEF