Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical
Spotlight Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Also see Gil's reviews of Footloose and The Revolutionists and Something Rotten!

Landon Kalin, Owen Donsker, Zoie Moller, and Cast
Photo by Robert Waller
There have been dozens of fantasy books that have been adapted into films and TV shows, but hardly any that have been turned into stage productions. Based on the first book in Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson & the Olympians" series of young adult novels, the musical adaptation, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, is set in a world where Greek gods are real, they have kids, and their kids have issues. It's a fun coming-of-age musical that both fans of the books (or of the two film adaptations) and fans of fantasy and teen angst will enjoy. With a cast who deliver winning performances of these archetypical characters, an abundance of high-soaring musical numbers, and plenty of humor, Spotlight Youth Theatre's production is a knock-out.

Like the book, the plot of the musical follows the story of Percy Jackson as he discovers that he is a "half-blood," the son of a mortal parent and a Greek god. Percy ends up at Camp Half-Blood, a safe harbor for the half-blood children to learn how to fight and protect themselves from the monsters in the world who want to do them harm, where he realizes that there are many other kids like him. When it's discovered that someone has stolen Zeus' lightning rod, and Percy finds it in his backpack, so he's targeted by the Gods and various monsters who believe he's the thief, he, along with his friends Grover and Annabeth, go on a quest to return the lightning, clear Percy's name, and prevent a war between the gods.

The music and lyrics by composer Rob Rokicki are upbeat, varied and, like the book by Joe Tracz, infused with humor and a fun, campy, and somewhat self-deprecating tone. While you may get more of the nuances and references in the songs and script if you're familiar with the books or films, I've only seen one of the films and that was years ago but I was still able to easily grasp the plot points and information necessary about the characters. While there is some semblance to the three main characters in the "Harry Potter" series (Harry, Hermione, and Ron) in the characters of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, and the Camp Half-Blood setting is somewhat similar to the Hogwarts school, there is still plenty of originality in Riordan's characters and situations to set it apart and the musical adaptation adds plenty of humor, which is minimal in the Harry Potter books and films.

Director Bobby Sample has assembled a large, talented cast who do wonderful work in creating believable characters, including several who make sure every joke they have lands, lands well, and gets big laughs. As Percy, Owen Donsker oozes teen angst as well as shock and confusion once he discovers that Poseidon was his father. He also lets us see how Percy is a vulnerable young man but also one infused with boyish charm, which he shows off in spades in the song "Good Kid," as he talks about the pain and difficulty of trying to fit in. Even though he tries to be good and swears he didn't mean to do anything wrong, he keeps getting blamed for things he didn't do. With a rich performance comprising excellent acting choices and a beautiful singing voice, Donsker is simply wonderful.

Zoie Moller is Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, and her portrayal is smart, sassy, and tough. As Grover, a satyr, Landon Kalin has perfect comic timing and wonderful facial expressions that get an abundance of laughs. Like Donsker, Moller and Kalin both have rich singing voices and provide assured performances; together they realistically form a fierce trio of friends who have each other's back. Donsker and Moller co-starred in 13 at Spotlight a few years back and it's nice to see this talented duo back together on stage. This is Kalin's first Spotlight show, after appearing at other youth theatres in town, and I look forward to more.

In the supporting cast, Braiden Lee is wonderful as Luke, another Half-Blood that Percy meets at the camp, as well as a few other characters. Lee leads "The Campfire Song," and he also skillfully accompanies the fun tune on guitar. As Percy's mom, Lauren Youngstedt is excellent. Her singing voice soars and she delivers a truly believable performance of this mortal woman. Andrei Igdanes is fun as a teacher at Camp Half-Blood who also happens to be a centaur, and Zoey Waller is fierce as Clarisse, the daughter of Aries. The entire large ensemble are good dancers and singers.

Sample's set design is mainly static but excellent, with the entire back wall used as a screen to constantly to display still images, projections, and moving video elements that quickly whisk us from one location to the next. Sample also contributed the monster and puppet designs, which are very good with a fun comical edge. Falin Ossipinsky's choreography is wonderful, with athletic touches; it is danced well by the large cast. Her hair and make-up designs and Samantha Essary Utpadel's costumes are creative, colorful, and slightly humorous. The lighting design by Anthony Rozzen, Josh Hontz, and Jack Taylor uses a range of bright colors, dark tones, and shadows to add humor and mystery to the production. Jack Taylor also provided the fight choreography, which includes several large and realistic fight sequences. Musical director Elisa W. Kurbat derives wonderful notes from the large cast and the superb onstage band.

With fun music, interesting characters, a plot stuffed full of adventure, and a crackerjack cast, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical is a fun, comical and fantasy-filled musical treat.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical runs through May 29, 2022, at Spotlight Youth Theatre, 10620 N 43rd Avenue, Glendale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 602-843-8318.

Director/ Scenic and Projection Design / Animation / Monsters and Puppets Design: Bobby Sample
Choreography / Hair and Make-Up: Falin Ossipinsky
Musical Director: Elisa W. Kurbat
Assistant Director / Fight Choreographer / Sound Design: Jack Taylor
Costume Design: Samantha Essary Utpadel
Lighting Design: Anthony Rozzen, Josh Hontz, Jack Taylor
Property Artisans: Vicki Grossman, Kenny Grossman and Bobby Sample

Percy Jackson: Owen Donsker
Annabeth Chase: Zoie Moller
Grover Underwood: Landon Kalin
Luke / Hades / Minotaur: Braiden Lee
Sally Jackson / The Oracle: Lauren Youngstedt
Mr. Brunner / Chiron / Ares: Andrei Igdanes
Clarisse La Rue / Squirrel: Zoey Waller
Mr. D: Calvin Corey
Silena Beauregard / Charon: Tabi Momeyer
Katie Gardner: Lee Conort
Gabe / Poseidon: TJ Brumbaugh
Mrs. Dodds / Fury / Kurt Cobain / Ocean Spirit: Kiera Crouch
Aunty Em / Medusa / Nancy Bobofit: Olivia Martinez
Thalia / Sister Fury: Addi Lauder
James Brown / UPS Guy: AJ King
Janis Joplin / Newscaster: Mia Hurley
Mozart / Bus Passenger: Jay Schwab
Echidna / DJ Cerberus / Sister Fury: Emmy Lange
Train Conductor / Bus Driver / Ocean Spirit: Chris Brown
Farmer / Uncle Ferdinand: Owen Morris
Bianca / Bus Passenger: Anna Parker
Half-Blood Campers & Classmates: Company
Dance Ensemble: Chris Brown, Mia Hurley, AJ King, Emmy Lange, Addi Lauder, Olivia Martinez, Anna Parker, Owen Morris, Jay Schwab
Kronos: Himself