From Feb. 1 to 4, Wellesley College’s student-run theater organization, Upstage, performed five showings of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” in the Ruth Nagel Jones Blackbox Theater in Alumnae Hall. The musical, originally created by Joe Tracz and Rob Rokicki, is an adaptation of the first novel in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. The Wellesley show was directed by Lennon Lupton’24.
When I walked into the theater, my attention was immediately captivated by the sprawling design on the floor. Leaf-like green paint covered its entirety and was broken up by four brown pathways. These pathways reached from the corners of the theater to the stage’s center, where they wrapped around a tissue-paper campfire. The audience was split into four sections facing center stage as if we too were campers sitting on logs around a campfire. The decoration and positioning around the floor created an unmistakably woodland atmosphere reminiscent of a sleepaway summer camp.
Further building on this smores-based nostalgia, the ensemble, who often played the other campers, stage-hands and various other characters were all wearing bright orange shirts that had “Camp Half-Blood” written in a Greek-inspired font.
I saw the Saturday matinee performance, which, unbeknownst to me when I got the ticket, was the “kid-friendly” version of the show. Sitting in the stands, I was too busy trying to comprehend how a musical adaptation of one of the most famous YA series could be “not-kid-friendly” to notice that there were, in fact, a handful of kids in the audience. At least, I didn’t notice until Lupton gave their directorial introduction.
Walking around the campfire in order to look at each section of the audience, Lupton described how the idea to perform “The Lightning Thief” came about, the personal significance of Riordan’s series and the sense of pride that came from watching this show come into fruition. It was the last line that Lupton said that really caught my attention, which was also reflected in the Director’s Note in the program: “This show is for everyone who read these books and everyone who reads them now, it is for the kids we were and the kids we are still, to inspire the hope and imagination of youth that we should never let go of.”
While the “not-kid-friendly” version of the musical may have included some artful foul language (who isn’t a fan of that?), the “kid-friendly” version had its own charm. Namely, it had the very specific nostalgia evoked by being around children who, like me however many years ago, were getting their first glimpse into Camp Half-Blood.
The three main characters, Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood, further hammered this nostalgia in. Alex Teasley ’27 perfectly captured the innocent compassion yet simultaneous wit and dismay that makes Percy Jackson so lovable. Carme Sanz-Muñoz ’26 skillfully maintained the steadfast intelligence that characterizes Annabeth while not losing the genuine love that lies at the heart of her friendships with Percy and Grover. Taryn Castro ’27 beautifully encapsulated the youthful energy and liveliness that proves Grover to be the ideal best friend (especially if you are a fan of mythical goats).
It was the friendship between these three that really brought the show together, reminding the audience of the intensity of childhood friendships and found family.
In all, the musical was simply fun. Following the trio’s journey to find Zeus’s stolen lightning bolt, the audience saw a slew of entertaining caricatures of various Greek gods and mythical beings. These included an impressive musical number by Charon (Sophia Espaldon ’27), meeting Hades (Ella Wesenyak ’26) in the underworld (Los Angeles), hilarious commentary from the overtly annoyed Dionysus (Kaiya Wilson ’24), and a comically flirtatious exchange between Percy’s mom (Abigail Lienhard ’24) and a Hawaiin-shirt clad Poseidon (Davis Anderson ’26) that would horrify any child.
Upstage’s performance of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was impressive, entertaining, funny, and the perfect combination of extremely lighthearted and deeply nostalgic.