Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL Brings Best-Selling Book to Life at FIRST STAGE

Greek Gods, Mythology & Monsters Take Over First Stage

By: Feb. 15, 2024
Review: THE LIGHTNING THIEF: THE PERCY JACKSON MUSICAL Brings Best-Selling Book to Life at FIRST STAGE
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Percy Jackson is having a moment. Yes, Disney+ just wrapped the first season of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, but Milwaukeeans can also find the demigod at First Stage in The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, directed by Jeff Frank.

With book by Joe Tracz and music & lyrics by Rob Rokicki, the musical is based on Rick Riordan’s 2005 New York Times best-seller, The Lighting Thief. It’s the story of Percy, a son of the Greek god Poseidon. Percy is just beginning to realize his unique demigod powers. Monsters are out to get him, someone has stolen Zeus’ master lightning bolt, and Percy is sent on a quest to retrieve it.

At 75 minutes plus intermission, fans of the Percy Jackson book and TV show should know that this is a more succinct adaptation. Case in point: Percy’s quest first begins after intermission. But since this is a kid-friendly show—and a musical—it works just fine.

I saw the Minotaur cast with Ben Nowacek as Percy and Sanaiah Hibbler and Thatcher Jacobs as Percy’s friends Annabeth and Grover, respectively. With ample moodiness and an angsty coif of hair, Nowacek does a great “misunderstood teen” and delivers some tricky, fast-paced songs. Hibbler has a lovely voice with a commanding, spirited stage presence. I’m keen to see what she’ll do next. As the satyr Grover, Jacobs commits to his half-man, half-goat movements, complete with furry pants.

Those clever movements are directed by Matt Daniels, who is also one of four adult performers. Joining him are Austin Nelson Jr., Nadja Simmonds, and Jamey Feshold. Nelson Jr. plays Luke, an older kid at camp. The other three grown-ups take on multiple roles. The sweet-voiced Simmonds is Percy’s mom, an evil fury, Medusa, an oracle, and more. Feshold brings the fun as Dionysus and Ares, just to name a couple.

Daniels delights as the centaur Chiron and two great gods: a beach-bum Poseidon and an Alice Cooper-esque Hades. How does one play a centaur? If you’re Matt Daniels, you do it with the swish of a horse tail and a smart little strut. It’s playful choices like this that impress with inventiveness. Costumes by Yvonne Miranda, scenic design by Madelyn Yee, and puppetry by Nikki Kulas all spark the imagination.

I would be remiss not to also shout-out the remaining young performers in the Minotaur cast: Ginger Foster and Callee Tamblingson in the ensemble, and Annie Sturtz as Clarisse. Sturtz is really a standout with a great belting voice and killer bad-girl attitude.

To sum up, fans of the book will no doubt get a kick out of The Lighting Thief—though, if the post-show talk back is any indication, observant youngsters will have some questions about the liberties taken with certain plot points. This actually makes for a great opportunity to teach kids about adapting a popular novel for the stage. It’s a big story to tell in a brief amount of time, but the heroic cast and crew at First Stage complete their quest for Percy Jackson success.

Catch The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical through March 10th at First Stage.

Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo




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