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Theater review: The Lightning Thief

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WMU Theatre
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WMU Theatre
Scene from WMU Theatre's production of "The Lightning Thief"

Western Michigan University Theatre’s The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical depicts a modern-day encounter with Greek Mythology. WMUK’s Gordon Bolar has this review.

The adventures of the teen hero, Percy Jackson, from the novel by Rick Riordan, are the subject of The Lightning Thief. Staged by director Jay Berkow in the small confines of the York Arena, this show becomes a larger-than-life, robust musical depiction of Percy’s quest to retrieve Zeus’s lightning bolt and prevent a war between the gods.

The audience coming along with Percy’s wild ride to Hades should be prepared for a lively evening in the theatre with a tongue-in-cheek look at strange creatures and capricious gods, many of whom display shortcomings remarkably like those of their less powerful human subjects. 

Audiences should also be prepared to accept clever and humorous stage effects because this production thankfully does what the theatre can do best: invoke the audience’s imagination to create worlds here-to-fore unseen, seemingly out of thin air.

Audiences also need to embrace the charming but foible-ridden teenagers who try to keep a lid on the erratic pantheon of gods. Given the talent and creativity of this cast, that should be easy. 

Chris Graham, as Percy, presents a convincing teen hero who must come to grips with an abusive stepfather, and his own struggles with ADHD and dyslexia. In the moving number “Strong”, his mother Sally, played by Sophia Bellefeuille, tells Percy that his condition is preparation for future challenges. 

After he’s expelled from school, Percy is inexplicably whisked off to Camp Half-Blood, while his mother is sent away to what he later learns is the underworld. After being greeted by camp director Mr. D (Dionysus), played by the vivacious in-your-face spark plug of a singer/performer Aniya Thompson, Percy is confronted with the news that his real father is a Greek god.

During the clever “Campfire Song”, a musical revelation of the godly parents of those gathered, Percy bonds with other campers. Not the least of these is the warrior-like Annabeth, played by True Chin Parker, the daughter of Athena. With help from fellow camper Luke, the son of Hermes, Percy learns that his father is Poseidon, the god of the sea.

Assisted by Annabeth and the satyr Grover, a Sancho Panza-like sidekick played by with humor and resourcefulness by Tommy Glodo, Percy steels his resolve as the trio sing the spirited “Killer Quest!” before marching off to the underworld.  

On their journey, the threesome encounters an annoying, insistent squirrel, deliciously rendered by Teddy Huff, and the dangerous Medusa, played with seductive style by Keeley Robinson.   

Highlighting their arrival in the underworld is the company’s neatly choreographed showstopper “D.O.A.”, featuring a graveyard reprise from dead musicians such as Elvis and Janis Joplin.

On his trip to the netherworld, Percy reclaims his mother and meets his real father, Poseidon. This southern California beach comber in sunglasses and Hawaiian shirt is appropriately played by Brandt Trotter as an aloof absentee father with disdain for the slob who is now Percy’s stepdad.  

After returning to camp with the coveted lightning bolt, Percy and company conclude with a vow to prepare for war, if necessary, with the rousing finale, “Bring on the Monsters”.

The Lightning Thief runs through October 8th. It serves as a reminder that the problems and behavior of modern teenagers, including love, friendship, betrayal, and clashes with parents can be understood and illuminated by the mythological perspective provided by the ancient Greeks.    

A former station manager of WMUK, Gordon Bolar is now the station's theater reviewer.
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