When it was first suggested to Rob Rokicki that he adapt The Lightning Thief into a musical, the songwriter-performer was at a crossroads. After years of bad breaks as an actor, Rokicki wasn’t sure whether he could take another rejection. And so, alongside book writer Joe Tracz, Rokicki threw his full attention to writing.
The eventual outcome was The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, which premiered as an hour-long show in 2014 before expanding into a fully-fledged Off-Broadway musical in 2017, a successful national tour in 2019, and now a Broadway run at the Longacre Theatre, directed by Stephen Brackett.
The trajectory is a particularly sweet one for Rokicki, who once worked as a bartender at the Longacre. Now his musical—about demi-god Percy Jackson, who battles both mythological monsters and teenage angst as he and his friends try to rescue Zeus’ stolen thunderbolt—is up on the stage at the same theatre eight times a week.
“I just threw everything at it and had a blast,” Rokicki says of the songwriting process. “I think YA is so perfect for tapping into that inner angst you have when you’re trying to get someone to notice your work.
“The tone is what I think fans responded to,” he adds, regarding the show’s success. “These Greek myths are told in this fresh, subversive, funny, scary way of teens taking agency of their lives as they start to instill the changes they want to see in the world.”
For each character’s mindset and personality, Rokicki assigned a different sound, like an electric guitar for Percy’s explosions of painful emotion, embodied by power chords. When the sweet-natured satyr Grover sings, audiences hear an acoustic guitar, melodicas, and pan pipes. Annabeth, an intelligent over-analyzer, almost sounds like a computer in “My Grand Plan,” thanks to a Rhodes keyboard.
“Rather than try to show how clever I am in certain regards, I wanted to be as true as I can to what the character was going through at that moment,” says Rokicki.
And there are plenty of characters on stage: 47, to be precise, all played by seven actors. “It adds to the theatricality of it,” says Rokicki of the cast size. “It’s a show that asks you to use your imagination. I thought that was really fun—and thrilling to take the challenge up.”
Just like Percy, Rokicki is ready to conquer whatever comes next.