Theater Review: ‘The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical’ presented by Wildwood Summer Theater

The cast of “The Lightning Thief” from the Wildwood Summer Theater. Photo by Siena Maxwell.

The purpose of theater has been debated throughout history. Is it supposed to make you think? Is it meant to entertain? Should its goal be to bring people together? There will never be a concrete answer to this debate. However, within minutes of stepping into the Wildwood Summer Theater (WST) production of “The Lightning Thief,” you know what their answer to this debate is: community.

…a fantastic production and hilarious narration from Rick Riordan’s book, directed and produced by the talented youth of the DMV.

“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is a fast-paced musical comedy based on the teen and young adult book series, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan. The popularization of the book brought ADHD and dyslexia to mainstream attention. In fact, Riordan’s story reframes these two commonly seen learning disabilities as a hindrance and shows them as a strength. What stood out to me about WST’s program was the inclusion of information about ADHD and dyslexia by playwright Ileana Blustein. Several pages have been devoted to definitions of each disability and the differences in ADHD symptoms for self-identifying men and women. Blustein goes above and beyond audience expectations of “The Lightning Thief” and even includes helpful background information on Greek mythology. The cast and crew have clearly spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of this series and how they want their performance to influence their audience. Adaptations are made all the time, but what sets this production apart from the rest is the joy and commitment of the cast and crew. Percy Jackson touched the hearts of young adults who grew up with it, and now that love can be passed on to the next generation.

I attended the performance of the understudy of this production, but I would never have guessed it in view of the dedication and professionalism shown by the actors. Bash House embraced the rock-inspired voice as he portrayed Percy. Alongside her were Maddie Sebastian and Hannah Biedron who played Annabeth and Grover respectively. Sebastian’s melodic, powerful soprano and Biedron’s impeccable comedic timing captivated audiences as the trio embarked on a hero’s quest to save the world.

The outstanding performances didn’t stop with the top three. The set of “The Lightning Thief” blew me away. Every member of this production should be proud of all their hard work. That said, there are a few honorable mentions. Scott Armiger as the sassy drummer, Mr. D became an instant crowd favorite, especially once he ironically started tap-dancing while singing about wanting to kill his campers. Sam Intrater’s physical comedy was shown in his portrayal of Chiron. No one could resist a chuckle as he galloped on and off stage. I can’t forget Pelzman-Kern’s charming and disarming characterization of Luke Castellan. Carolina Tomasi dazzled with her fiery attitude and clear voice as Clarisse La Rue and seamlessly morphed into her many other characters. I expect to see many of these faces again in future productions.

The hard work of the actors brought the characters to life, but the dedication of the production team allowed the magic to envelop the scene. The show constantly changes locations and encounters a variety of characters as the main characters attempt a cross-country journey to clear Percy’s name and find out who wants to start a war between the gods. WST did an amazing job with the quick and efficient costume/set changes that were needed to reflect these many characters and locations.

Delaney Gregg had to be precise with every costume. Many cast members played multiple roles. Gregg helped the audience tell each of the demigods apart by dressing them in clothes that indicated their pious parents. Alyssa Taylor as Maddie Rocha exuded feminine energy in a soft pink puff sleeve top and blue jeans with flower decals as the daughter of Aphrodite. Clarisse (Tomasi) wore dramatic winged eyeliner, black pants and combat boots, and a blood red camo tank top. A strong and fierce child of Ares. Katie Gardner, played by Gregg herself, dressed as a gardener. Demeter’s child wore brown overalls and a pretty floral top. Finally, Grover (Biedron) wore a simple t-shirt paired with brown furry pants to indicate his true identity as a satyr. If the heat bothered Biedron, they didn’t talk about it.

Instead of trying to go through complex set changes to keep up with the story, set designer Mairead Canning cleverly designed panels to dictate each new setting. Lighting designer Erin Sanders used lots of textured and saturated lighting to help establish the setting and tone of the many characters we encounter. This production employed the use of masks and puppets to create the mythical monsters of the story. The Fury’s large black wings were operated by other cast members, allowing for smooth transitions. The Minotaur towered over Percy as three cast members operated its large papier-mâché head and detachable arms.

All in all, it was a fantastic production and hilarious narration of Rick Riordan’s book, directed and produced by the talented youth of the DMV. Join the Wildwood Summer Theater for professional productions and an ingrained sense of community. Wildwood Summer Theater is an all-young adult theater company. Each artistic mind behind the production and on stage is between 14 and 25 years old. WST began in 1965, making it the oldest entirely youth-run theater in the DC metro area. This production was directed by Mercedes Blankenship and produced by Katie Peacock, with musical direction by Ginny Moses, choreography by Katie Quinn and fight choreography by Kiefer Cure.

Duration: 2h15 with 3 intermissions of 15 minutes.

“The Lightning Thief” ran July 15-23, 2022 at Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center, 7995 Georgia Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20910. For more information on Wildwood Summer Theater, click here.

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Robert M. Larson