WEST VALLEY CITY — A Percy Jackson musical? The Lightning Thief with book by Joe Tracz and music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki adapts Rick Riordan’s first novel of the Percy Jackson series to the stage. West Valley Arts executive director Jeff Olson commented on opening night that the choice to present The Lightning Thief at the West Valley Performing Arts Center is an effort to bring a new family-friendly musical into the repertoire. Olsen also noted that this is the first Lightning Thief production performed in the round. A challenge taken on by director Jennifer Parker Hohl to stage this production sparkling with a rock concert energy in presenting the story of Percy Jackson who discovers he is a “half-blood” being both the child of a human and Greek god.

Preteen Percy Jackson (Ren Cottam) discovers his Grecian mythological heritage while dealing with the ordinary struggles of a teenage demigod — monster attacks, ADHD, and dyslexia. This shock adds to the personal burdens of just trying to fit in as a kid who loves his mom and wants to be good. Percy is then wrongfully accused of stealing Zeus’s thunderbolt and must go on a quest to prove his innocence thereby preventing a war between the gods. In adapting The Lightning Thief, the musical is a great blend of the novel’s spirit and is appropriate for the novel’s target audience- middle-grade kids. Preteens and their adults who are fans of the books and characters will be enchanted by this adaptation.

Cottam’s task playing Percy Jackson sees Cottam on stage virtually every moment of the fast-paced two-hour production. Cottam rises consistently to the role’s demands as a vocalist and performer, ensuring a performance that captures a teenager’s youthful joy, angst, and sorrow. As a performance in the round, Cottam used the staging as an advantage to speak lines directly to the audience aiding that sense of relatability and connection.

A particular moment that stood out is Cottam’s performance of the solo “Good Kid” which is bold and brash. Then, Cottam shifts to a moment of emotional vulnerability with the lyric “I swear I never stole anything…I swear that I’m a good kid” exposing the internal raw loneliness and heartbreak of a struggling preteen. This emotional depth is built on an earlier scene with Percy’s mom, Sally Jackson, played by MacKenzie Skye Pederson. Pederson and Cottam establish a beautiful parent-child relationship and connection during their duet “Strong”. Pederson delivers a sweet, motherly vocal grounding of the show’s emotional center as Pederson’s performance of the lyrics insists that what makes Percy special also makes him strong.

West Valley Performing Arts Center, West Valley City, Salt Lake County 2024. THE LIGHTNING THIEF, Ren Cottam, Mackenzie Skye Pederson, Hanna Schneck, Kile Allyn

Other demigods add striking performances. Zack Grob is Luke, son of Hermes, and an older camper at Camp Half-Blood frustrated with the indifference of the gods. Luke’s character is adapted well from the novel and Grob gives a subtle edge in performing Luke that resolves masterfully during a reprise of the “Good Kid” theme. Hanna Schneck as Annabeth offers a strong female presence in the story. Schneck delivers vocally with “My Grand Plan”, a standout number from the show, tackling Annabeth’s doubts and hopes with a memorable performance. Kile Allyn as satyr guide Grover brings humor and performs awesome acrobatic jumps and spins which add variety to the staging and differentiate the satyr as distinct from the human demigods Percy and Annabeth.

A clever feature of the show that began with the original production design is the low-tech stage effects of The Lightning Thief, which distinguish the show as an imaginative theatre piece perfect for community productions. Director Hohl incorporates these low-tech special effects into this modern mythological show which blends well into the lighthearted romp and humor.  The sword wielded by Percy transforms from a pen with clever throws and catches performed admirably by Cottam and other cast members. The waves of the sea which Percy can command are present as long blue fabric actively moving with the aid of the ensemble. The vehicles portrayed are implied by the movement of the performers and simple props.

West Valley Performing Arts Center, West Valley City, Salt Lake County 2024. THE LIGHTNING THIEF, Tianna Maxwell (center) and cast of THE LIGHTNING THIEF

“THE LIGHTNING THIEF”, Tianna Maxwell (center) and the cast of THE LIGHTNING THIEF, June 2024, photo credit Laurie Baird, West Valley Arts

In addition to managing the show’s effects, the ensemble is astonishingly busy multicast as monsters, gods, demigods, squirrels, and more. Director Jennifer Hohl and choreographer Izzy Arrieta manage the staging and movement of these performers well and allow the featured performers to stand out from the group. David Weekes was a delight as the camp counselor/teacher Chiron while navigating an extended rolling horse rear end and later appearing as a bus driver, train attendant, and Hades. Kelly Griffiths also serves as a humorous antagonist to Percy Jackson in the roles of Mr. D, stinky stepdad Gabe, and the god of war Ares. The fluidity of how well the performers step in and out of their many roles gives so much color to the piece and adds to its theatricality. In addition, the strong vocals of the ensemble uphold the energy and display skill in blending harmonies well. “The Campfire Song” is a fun ensemble number staged and sung well such that it feels reminiscent of kids hanging out around a campfire and singing about their demigod woes to an acoustic guitar.

One issue with the high-spirited rock energy of the large group “rock” numbers is that fast and dense lyrical phrases delivered by lead characters could be hard to understand. Improving the actor’s enunciation or rebalancing the accompaniment would aid the audience to better understand the lyrics thick with plot and humor.

West Valley Performing Arts Center, West Valley City, Salt Lake County 2024. THE LIGHTNING THIEF, Hanna Schneck(center) and cast of THE LIGHTNING THIEF

“THE LIGHTNING THIEF”, Hanna Schneck (center) and cast, June 2024, photo credit Laurie Baird, West Valley Arts

Building the world of the stage for these modern Greek myths, costume designer Alicia Kondrick and scenic designer Morgan Golightly give a physical dimension to the mythology of the production. The minotaur design with simple stilts, mask, and wig added height and threat to the character while matching the above-mentioned low-tech design. Likewise, the oracle’s costume design struck a balance between ancient and contemporary with a gray dress with wrapping that resembled mummification. This contemporary need is also reflected in the costumes of the principal performers to help create the appearance of youthfulness. Performers portraying older characters employed more structured costuming pieces in contrast to the softness of the young demigods. Fans of the novels will recognize the familiar bright orange Camp Half-Blood shirt. Golightly as the scenic designer creates a simple space with blue wavelike patterns painted on the stage surfaces allowing the space to function for many locations. A lightning bolt projected onto the stage across the waves as audiences arrive at the space hints at the conflict to come for Percy Jackson.

The West Valley Performing Arts Center was faced with closure and now is stayed by a potential new arrangement to have the city transition management of the space to an independent organization. The Lightning Thief is a sign of the arts shining brightly in West Valley and the show is a delightful family-friendly community production. Fans of the Percy Jackson series and those new to the word “Half-Blood” can enjoy a lighthearted approach to Greek mythology and a message about acceptance and believing in yourself. The Lightning Thief is breezy mythological fun energized by a talented cast and production team. Despite Percy’s caution, you may wish to be a half-blood and fight the monsters alongside these talented demigods.

West Valley Arts production of The Lightning Thief plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Saturdays at 3 PM through June 29th at the West Valley Performing Arts Center (3333 South Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City). Tickets are $18-25. For more information, visit wvcarts.org


These reviews are made possible by a grant from the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks program.