It’s sometimes tough being a kid trying to find one’s place in the universe. Stressors can come from many aspects of one’s life, affecting friendships, schoolwork, and relationships with their parents. Religion, nationality or medical conditions are a few things that can make children feel anything but normal – whatever that is.
In fact, more than 10 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 4 and 17 are diagnosed with ADHD, according to a report from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Throw in the undiagnosed and that one out of every two U.S. marriages – many with children – end in divorce, and these few facts reveal a microcosm of the issues that thousands of children face as their normal that doesn’t always feel normal.
Deep down, children want to be liked, they want to fit in, they want to know and understand their parents and if they could emerge a superhero, or perhaps better yet, a demigod who saves the world, well, that’s a powerful step to understanding themselves and their place in life. In the meantime, books, movies and the characters on the theatrical stage can be an escape because they are relatable.
Percy Jackson, the lead character in the Rick Riordan fantasy adventure Greek mythology pentalogy resonates with so many children. He’s a school student diagnosed with ADHD. He grew up without knowing his father. He doesn’t perform well in school, and, by golly, turns out he’s the “half-blood” son of the Greek god Poseidon.
More than 45 million books in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series have sold, catapulting it to the New York Times Best Sellers list for not just weeks, but years, spawning two movies and now a popular touring musical named after the flagship book: The Lightning Thief. The storyline reveals that Percy has newly discovered powers he’s struggling to control while monsters are on his trail during his epic quest with friends to find Zeus’s lightning bolt to prevent a war between the gods.
The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is now playing at the Ordway in St Paul through Saturday night, June 22. Actor Chris McCarrell is in the title role, Jalynn Steele plays his mom Sally. Kristin Stokes plays the ever-brave Annabeth, daughter of Athena and Jorrell Javier as Grover, the satyr – half goat, half human.
We caught up with actor James Hayden Rodriguez who plays antagonist Luke Castellan, son of Hermes, among other characters. Rodriguez spoke to us about how The Lightning Thief relates to his own childhood and what audiences can expect from the musical.
Q: Many children relate to the characters in The Lightning Thief, the “half-blood” children of Greek gods who grew up only with their mortal parent, not really knowing their other parent. How do you relate to your character or any aspect of this story?
My character in this story goes on a huge journey of self-discovery and it all revolves around his relationship to his father. Like my character, my father wasn’t around when I was growing up and I wrote him off because of that. As I grew up, I realized there was a huge part of me that was missing. There were so many things I didn’t learn or had to learn on my own. I was resentful, but even more so I just wanted answers. Why did he leave? Why did he let me and my mom fend for ourselves and struggle through poverty? When I finally got a chance to get those answers and find a sense of closure, everything changed for me. It was a huge part of my personal journey, and something I inject to the character of Luke every night.
Q: Percy, in many ways, is like any of today’s school kids — he has ADHD and dyslexia and disciplinary issues at school. What advice would you give middle school students about the lessons they can learn about life from Percy?
A: Everyone relates to this story and its message. It is a story about self-discovery, personal identity, and finding one’s strength. That strength is usually born from one’s weaknesses, so being able to change your mindset about your insecurities and become empowered is such a huge life lesson. Whether you’re struggling with a physical, mental or learning disability, sexual identity, or gender identity, once you figure out who you truly are and how that makes you so unique and OWN THAT, no one will be able to take anything from you. You’ll have won.
Q. For the parents out there, explain why you see this as a story that is just as entertaining for them as it is for the child?
A. The story is well told and smartly written. It is witty, it’s touching, it’s funny, it’s fierce. We have elements that younger people will love, definitely, but there is a nuance to this story that only adults will truly understand and appreciate. It is a good moment for parents to take a step back and try to understand what their kids are going through. And not diminish or belittle their feelings because they’re young, but really listen and try to understand this world through a young person’s eyes.
Tickets are still available at the Ordway for The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical with showings at 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 21, and 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 22.
Author Sheree R. Curry is an award-winning journalist and long-time TC Jewfolk board member. She lives in Maple Grove, Minnesota, with her children.