First Stage: The Lightening Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical

Percy Jackson? I had never heard of this phenomenon until I heard about it from my grandson who is a big fan. And then about a year ago, Percy came up in conversation during the Mythology class I was attending at UW-Milwaukee. My grandson was amazed that the books he was reading were being mentioned in college. So of course when I had an opportunity to attend First Stage’s presentation of The Lightening Thief, I had to see for myself.

Well, it seems like I was the only one in the theater who was at a loss about the story and our hero, Percy Jackson. But that just made for a very appreciative crowd who loved every moment of this musical. And this is quite a musical…and musicals are a special strength for First Stage…but in my memory this one is particularly driven by the music and singing and choreography…the story is just propelled by the music.

Nadja Simmonds, Austin Nelson, Jr., and cast in THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

But the story itself is complicated…just like any story that involves Greek Mythology…but with added twists and turns as we celebrate the trials and tribulations of the modern day gods and their offspring in contemporary America. So this is why Percy grabs the imaginations of young people and is the gateway to learning about western thought and arts. What a wonderful introduction to the world.

Jamey Feshold (center), Silver Anderson (left), Abram Nelson and Calleigh Mills in THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Percy is a confused young person being thrown out of school…again…through no fault of his own. But it is because of his person and the other worldly powers who are out to get him. So he encounters things that seem to occur in dreams and that others around him don’t seem to see or understand in the same way. The stuff that makes up our myths.

And unfortunately, other than the love and support of his mother, his current home life leaves a lot to be desired. So it might seem that his conflicts come from that…until we find out that he is a halfblood…the child of his human mother and a Greek god.

Percy doesn’t come into his own until he mother places him in summer camp, Camp Halfblood, where all of the other campers are in the same predicament. But here is where he starts to understand his own story…until he is forced to take on a hero quest to Hades! We are all surprised that it is currently located in Los Angeles, but for some reason Percy isn’t. So he and his friends set out to LA and all types of mayhem ensue. I won’t divulge anymore other than there are heroics and cameo roles from multiple Greek gods.

Calleigh Mills, Abram Nelson, and Silver Anderson in THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

Other than the musical itself, there are some other amazing things at play here. As you can see from the photos the set and stage are amazing and easily imply a feeling of ancient Greece. And as always the set does multiple duty to depict different locales at different times…scenic designer Madelyn Yee did a marvelous job and I am just in awe of the stage floor. Costumes designer, Yvonne Miranda, also gave us over the top costumes for our halfbloods, the humans in their midst, and the gods…and then add the puppets that represent gods and monsters and such…extremely clever and colorful…thank you Nikki Kulas. And what a marvelous job by choreographer Ami Majeskie. There is an incredible amount of complex dance moves that work just so incredibly smoothly. And as I said the fight scenes were exaggerated and over the top and ever so fluid as well…and the credit here goes to fight director Jamey Feshold and Bree Kazinksi. And I can’t believe quite how easily this whole production seems to work, but I am sure it the result of a lot of hard work on the part of director Jeff Frank!

So if you have a child or grandchild who is aware of the Percy Jackson stories, you can’t afford to miss The Lightening Thief. If you have a child or grandchild who isn’t a Percy Jackson fan yet, this is the perfect time to introduce them to Percy and mythology and great musical theater at the same time.

And like other First Stage musical productions, this one doesn’t live by the music and the overall story alone. There are clear messages about community, friendship, and family in each of them…and it is again happily apparent here!

Sanaiah Hibbler and Ben Nowacek in THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL. First Stage, 2024. Photo by Paul Ruffolo.

And a couple of side notes: First Stage rotates two casts during a run of their bigger productions at the Todd Wehr. I have included photos provided by First Stage from each cast. And after the production, the actors will take 3 or 4 questions from the audience…and in this case I was surprised that two out of the four questions were about scenes that were apparently skipped that appear in other versions of the story. So this story clearly resonates with young people.

As you will note from the photos there is some swordplay and battle scenes. They are slow motion and wildly exaggerated so no one of any age should feel threatened by them…but they certainly help provide the drama that the musical demands!

The Lightening Thief, The Percy Jackson Musical, runs through March 10 2024 in the Todd Wehr Theater at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. Additional information and tickets can be found here.

Extra Credit Reading:

Digital Play Bill! Enrichment guide and social story!

article © 2024 The New World Digs

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