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NY Theater Reviews

Chris McCarrell and James Hayden Rodriguez/ Ph: Jeremy Daniel

HALF DIVINE

By SANDY MACDONALD

A teen-oriented musical grows too big for its britches.

Fresh off a national tour, this myth-based musical – a modest delight when it debuted at the Lortel in 2017 – tackles Broadway and comes up lacking. Despite some beefing up of Joe Tracz’s book – based on Rick Riordan’s bestselling novel about the half-divine contemporary offspring of ancient Greek gods – the only aspect notably amped up in this iteration is the actual amping. Ryan Rumery’s sound system is punitively loud, making a mash of Rob Rokicki’s generally clever lyrics. Lee Savage’s scenic design – mostly a matter of girders in bare space – has likewise been upsized but looks skimpy in context. Imaginative new oversized puppetry – by Achesanwalsh Studios – provides a welcome visual boost.

Many of the original cast members are back. As the title character, Chris McCarrell has apparently had time to work on his voice (he had the acting chops all along), or perhaps the acoustics are more accommodating. In any case, he’s a modern-day Bobby Rydell, and fans are sure to flock.  

Shouldering the unenviable task of filling in for George Salazar, Jorrel Javier – as Percy’s faithful semi-satyr sidekick, Grover – skews too angry, especially in a secondary role as the director of Camp Half-Blood, a training program for semi-divine progeny struggling, amid typical adolescent anomie, to find their special skills and mission. (Side note: Are today’s teens well served by a saga showing role models taking up arms?)
 
Playing a panoply of adult roles, mostly demonic, Broadway newcomer Ryan Knowles steals the show with his basso profundo timbre and protean shape-shifting skills. The highlight is his Grey Gardens-style Medusa (for which kudos are also due costumer Sydney Maresca). Jalynn Steele, playing a Donna Summer-esque Charon (a subterranean Las Vegas elevator replaces the traditional ferry), also aces a showstopper, “D.O.A.”
 
There’s one salient aspect of this reboot that begs for a do-over. Both Tracz and director Stephen Brackett should have thought twice before having Knowles – portraying a museum docent – occupy a wheelchair at the outset of the show. Proponents of greater inclusivity regarding differently abled performers will likely cheer, only to be disillusioned by a “comical” transformation.