Wildwood Summer Theatre’s ‘The Lightning Thief’ proves the kids are alright

The 100% student-led production brings the Percy Jackson rock musical to life with few bells and whistles but loads of enthusiasm

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a great choice for a student production. And you will not find a more enthusiastic group of young performers than the team that put together Wildwood Summer Theatre’s current production of The Lightning Thief.

The cast of Wildwood Summer Theatre’s ‘The Lightning Thief.’ Photo courtesy of Wildwood Summer Theatre.

Based on the best-selling book by Rick Riordon, The Lightning Thief tells the story of a group of adolescent demi-gods (children whose parents include one Greek God and one human) who are training at a place called Camp Half-Blood where they prepare to defend the Gods against various enemies. The Lightning Thief is the first book in a five-book series that features Percy Jackson (son of Poseiden) going on a series of quests with his good friends Annabeth (daughter of Athena) and Grover (a satyr, or “goat boy” if you will).

The show’s heavy rock score is perfect for choreographing fun group numbers, and the show has a large ensemble cast so plenty of performers get a chance in the spotlight. Thematically, the show deals with a lot of the issues that adolescents and young adults grapple with. Percy is famously dyslexic while Annabeth feels unwelcome at home by her stepmother.

Wildwood Summer Theatre is a nonprofit and the oldest theater in the region that is run completely by students and young adults. The performers, designers, directors and musicians in Wildwood’s productions must be between ages 14 and 25. Once you pass 25 you age out. Only the company’s board members, who all have an arts background, are around to provide an “older” perspective.

With that in mind, The Lightning Thief‘s team did an impressive job of crafting a full-length musical. Director Mercedes Blankenship put together a cohesive show that moved energetically. Choreographer Kate Quinn put together some first-rate dance numbers on the show’s big ensemble numbers, and music director Ginny Moses led an energetic six-piece band.

In the lead role of Percy Jackson, recent high school graduate Noah Haren’s performance was physical and full of humor. His lively gestures and facial expressions resulted in great comedic timing. As Grover, KT Aylesworth also showed off their comedic side and a strong alto voice. Rounding out the trio was Caleigh Davis as Annabeth. Davis’ strong vocals were a highlight of the show.

One of the great things about The Lightning Thief is that it has many cameo roles that give  ensemble members a moment in the spotlight. One of the funniest of these was Scott Armiger as Mr. D. This part lends itself to great comedy, as Mr. D (that’s short for Dionysus, the disgruntled God of Wine who is stuck at Camp Half-Blood for 100 years as punishment from Zeus). Armiger appears onstage in an exaggerated fake mustache, comical outfit and tap shoes which he put to good use in the number “Another Terrible Day”.

Other songs in the show gave performers the chance to showcase their impressive vocals. The perfectly cast Julia Link in the role of Clarisse (daughter of Zeus) impressed with her strong belting voice in the song “Put You in Your Place”. Chiron (Sam Intrater) showed off his lovely tenor in the tune “Their Sign” and Luke (Jacob Pelzman-Kern) displayed a great singing voice (and an entertaining sense of rage) in the song “The Last Day of Summer”. All three performers had great voices and I wished they had more opportunities to show them off.

This was a production that was carried out with very few bells and whistles. But the lack of elaborate sets or costumes showcased the creativity of the designers on the team. The set (scenic designer Mairead Canning) was a simple Greek building facade made of little more than cardboard and plywood. But it conveyed the essence of Camp Half-Blood and made for seamless and easy scene changes.

The costumes and props were similarly simple, and yet effective. Taking place in a world populated by magic and mythical creatures, staging The Lightning Thief presents a challenge in that it could call for elaborate designs. But the Wildwood team was right to embrace simplicity. For example, the character of Chiron (half man, half horse) was played by an actor (Sam Intrater) who clearly had only two legs, but his humorous exaggerated horse stride made the audience chuckle each time he came onstage and clearly conveyed that he was part horse.

The special effects (props designer Kelly Gentilo) were similarly simple but effective. In one scene, Percy makes a toilet overflow and douses Clarisse with water. No water? No problem. The Wildwood team simulated the effect of water with a can of silly string. A similar effect was achieved later in the play by using blue streamers when Percy causes the ocean to rise up against the God Ares (Ross Bollinger)

One thing that impressed me about the Wildwood program is its commitment to providing training opportunities in all aspects of theater production. The Lightning Thief team included a fight choreographer (Kiefer Cure) to help the actors safely and realistically engage in sword fights, a large team of designers and engineers to craft the technical elements of the production, and most impressively a dramaturg AND assistant dramaturg (Ileana Blustein and Daniella Ignacio). For anyone not familiar with a dramaturg, their job is to research the background of the play and to share their knowledge with the performers who benefit from these insights and create a more engaging depiction of the material. In this production, the dramaturgs spent time discussing the history of Greek mythology, dyslexia and ADHD with the cast to gain an understanding of what challenges Percy Jackson dealt with as he grew up.

Wildwood Summer Theater is a great program for training young performers in all aspects of theater creation. I enjoyed this production and I wish these creators all the best in their future endeavors.

Running Time: Two and a half hours including a 15-minute intermission

Wildwood Summer Theater’s The Lightning Thief: A Percy Jackson Musical played July 15 – 23, 2022 at Montgomery College Cultural Arts Center – 7995 Georgia Avenue, in Silver Spring, MD. For more information about Wildwood Summer Theater go online.

Covid Protocol: Proof of vaccination and masks are required.

Percy Jackson: Noah Haren
Annabeth Chase: Caleigh Davis
Grover Underwood: KT Aylesworth
Luke Castellan: Jacob Pelzman-Kern
Chiron: Sam Intrater
Sally Jackson: Abby Ehrenstein
Clarisse/Mrs. Dodds: Julia Link
Mr. D/Hades: Scott Armiger
Oracle/Charon: Susanna Hubacker
Ares/Gabe: Ross Bollinger
Katie/Squirrel: Delaney Gregg
Silena/Aunty Em: Maggie Rocha
Poseidon/Ensemble: Judah Canizares

ENSEMBLE:
Alyssa Taylor (u/s Silena/Auntie Em)
Bash House (u/s Percy)
Carolina Tomasi (u/s Clarisse/Mrs. Dodds)
Hanna Biedron (u/s Grover)
Maddie Sebastian (u/s Annabeth)

Producer: Katie Peacock
Director of PR: Siena Maxwell
Production Manager: Val McFatter
Production SM: Ellen Mitchell
Rehearsal SM: Emily Shpiece
Assistant SM: Annie Guo
Director: Mercedes Blankenship
Music Director: Ginny Moses
Assistant MD: Zoe Fischthal
Choreographer: Katie Quinn
Fight Choreographer: Kiefer Cure

Dramaturg: Ileana Blustein
Associate Dramaturg: Daniella Ignacio
Technical Director: Andrew McMichael
Scenic Designer: Mairead Canning
Asst. Scenic Designer: Anna Ryabova
Costume Designer: Delaney Gregg
Asst. Costume Designer: Josie Danckaert
Props Designer: Kelly Gentilo
Asst. Props Designer: Luisa Pasturel
Lighting Designer: Erin Sanders
Sound Designer Michael Roll

Music Director: Ginny Moses
Assistant MDs: Zoe Fischthal, Katie Stauderman
Guitar 1: Carter Grimes
Guitar 2:
Daniel Wilson
Bass:
Tyler Jackson
Drums:
Daniel Czyz
Melodica:
Bethany Fuss

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