‘The Lightning Thief’ Musical Strikes Theaters and Hearts Around the Country: An Interview with Ryan Knowles
For Ryan Knowles, horsing around isn’t just fun and games. It is quite literally his job. Knowles plays Chiron, a centaur and mentor, in “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”
The show, based off of the book of the same name by Rick Riordan, follows the young Percy as he discovers that the Greek gods are real and Poseidon, god of the sea, is his estranged father. When Percy is framed for stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt and his mother is kidnapped to the Underworld, he and his friends must travel across North America to save his mother and clear his name.
Aside from putting his best hoof forward as Percy’s beloved teacher, Knowles is also the man behind the mask of Hades, Poseidon, Medusa, Kurt Cobain and many more characters throughout the show.
“There are a lot of characters that I play and a lot of quick changes,” said Knowles. “That’s part of what’s so fun — that I get to handle so many distinct characters in one single show. When do you get to do that?”
The two characters that took the most care and attention to fully form, said Knowles, were Chiron, the centaur, and Medusa, the mythical female monster who turns men to stone with her gaze. In order to get in touch with his equestrian side, Knowles spent time on YouTube watching videos of actual horses and dressage.
To turn into Medusa, Knowles worked closely with the show’s choreographer, Patrick McCollum. “He created an idea for Medusa’s movements that kind of bring forward the physical aspects of who Medusa really is so that was fun. Just think lots of snakes, you know. She would move like she were a skin bag full of snakes, like a female version of Oogie Boogie from ‘[The] Nightmare Before Christmas.’”
To Knowles, though, the magic of this show isn’t simply in the slew of characters and quick changes, the cast and crew that he admires so much, or even the theatre magic of bringing a minotaur to life and calling upon the ocean when confined to a very dry stage. To Mr. Knowles, what truly makes “The Lightning Thief” so remarkable is the fan-base that supports it; the “Half-Bloods,” as they have dubbed themselves.
The inception of this show could very easily be a daunting task; it involves adapting the book by Rick Riordan that millions of people grew up reading and love ferociously; a task that many say the recent “Harry Potter” based show, “The Cursed Child,” failed at, despite its theatrical success. To make matters more intimidating, previous adaptations of the novel, notably the 2010 film starring Logan Lerman, received criticism for veering away from the heart of the book and its characters.
Knowles remarked that the cast and crew are well aware of these expectations and that the musical’s script adheres to the original plot and spirit of the book. He added that the format of a musical, which uses songs to focus on certain moments and emotions, allows for a whole new facet of the story to come to life, giving the audience the chance to resonate with Percy’s feelings of being an outcast.
“Like Sally says in the beginning, ‘normal is a myth,’ and what makes you different makes you strong. That’s really the message of the show.”
Fans of the book series seem to have embraced the show wholeheartedly, devoting as much care and enthusiasm to the musical as they have to the books. Knowles spoke with reverence about a Twitter campaign that allowed fans from different cities to buy tickets for their fellow Half-Bloods who couldn’t afford them, giving them the opportunity to see the show when the tour came to their respective towns.
“It just shows exactly what kind of community of fans is out there, so that’s been an incredible thing to witness as we go through from town to town.” Knowles mentioned how wonderful it felt to arrive to a theater full of kids wearing Camp Half-Blood paraphernalia; many fans have almost seamlessly adapted their love for the books to a love for the stage production.
To Knowles, the audiences’ intense connection and resonance with the show is what is most remarkable about the experience. It is what he believes has made the musical such a hit. Beyond that, in Knowles’ view, “The Lightning Thief” succeeds because of the universality of the story.
“People love the story because Percy’s journey is like anybody’s,” said Knowles. “And everybody can relate.”
“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” will be playing at the Beacon Theater from March 28-31. To purchase tickets, visit lightningthiefmusical.com
Photo Caption: Ryan Knowles as Medusa in “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.”
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel