Show led by Brody Bourke as “Percy Jackson”

By Calvin Nuttall

Greek gods, mythic monsters, and teen angst storm the stage in South Valley Civic Theatre’s production of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical.” The show opens Feb. 23 at the Morgan Hill Community Playhouse.

In this musical adaptation of the popular 2005 young adult novel by Rick Riodain, 12-year-old “Percy Jackson’s” life is upended when he discovers he is the demigod son of Poseidon, god of the sea. With this revelation, the dorky middle -schooler is suddenly hurled onto an adventure filled with mythological beasts, teen drama, and a ticking clock to stop a war between the gods.

“It’s funny, it’s quirky, it is a very dramatic version of the book,” said producer Jenn Oliphant. “It moves the plot along really quick, and there are brief cameos from the book’s favorite villains and side characters. And what’s not to love about adding music and dancing?”

The show is led by Brody Bourke as “Percy Jackson,” supported by Riley Brown as “Annabeth,” the demigoddess daughter of Athena and (at first) his rival and reluctant ally; and Joey King as “Grover,” their mutual friend and guardian, who happens to be a half-goat satyr. They lead the entire cast of more than 20 young talented  performers to bring the epic odyssey to life.

“Brody is one of the loveliest, most inclusive and personable kids that you’re ever going to meet,” Oliphant said. “Within a week or so we realized that, not only was he the perfect Percy Jackson, he was also the perfect lead because he really just brings everyone in the cast together. Brody has set a precedent of being wonderful to each other.”

The show not only includes teens in the cast, but also its band, which is half composed of adolescents. Several youths take key roles among the crew as well, including assistant producer Clara Shem-Tov, director Ian Lasky, and assistant director Bella Tankersley. They are assisted by Oliphant and mentor director Max Tarlton.

“They are taking it very seriously,” Oliphant said. “Clara is learning what it is like to be a producer, and learning scheduling, budgeting, publicity, marketing, advertising, all of the things that go with being a producer. She is incredibly talented. Our entire tech crew is made up of teens, our front-of-house manager is a teen as well. This is a really unique production.”

Percy begins the show as a seemingly normal middle schooler living in New York City, wondering about his place in the world.

Although he loves his mom, “Sally Jackson,” his home life is unstable and his relationship with his stepfather is contentious. He takes solace in his mother’s stories about Greek myths that she knows unusually well.

The young hero’s call to adventure begins when Percy’s math teacher suddenly transforms into a monster and assaults him.

That is when his best friend Grover is forced to reveal that he is a mythical creature as well, and intercedes to help him. In the resulting action, his mother is killed, and Percy is whisked away to a place called “Camp Half-Blood,” the only safe place for demigods.

“Grover is a protector, first and foremost,” Joey King said. “He is a little bit of comic relief, very nervous about keeping his friends safe and making sure they don’t get into danger.”

Despite being a mythical creature, Grover is as much a normal, relatable teen character as Percy, King said.

“I feel Grover is just very much like me, but more dramatized,” he said. “The way he acts around his friends and even his insecurities are like mine. That blends with me and helps me portray him better, more easily. I know what he’s going through, in some ways. Minus the mystical stuff.”

At Camp Half-Blood, Percy meets other children of the gods, including Annabeth. The trio then embark on an important quest: to retrieve the stolen lightning bolt of Zeus from Hades, in the Underworld.

“The whole reason he decides to go on the quest is to save his mom from the Underworld,” Bourke said. “He has no intention to return the lightning bolt, he doesn’t care about that. The main reason he is on this quest is to save her.”

The fate of the world hinges on the young man’s mission. If he does not return the stolen lightning bolt before the summer solstice, it will spark a war between Zeus and Poseidon, as these gods are not allowed to have children and Percy is the primary suspect.

“Eventually, he comes to realize the importance of his quest,” Bourke said. “He starts to learn more about who he is and how important this really is to him. He starts growing stronger and caring more about everything that is happening in the world.”

Annabeth decides to accompany Percy in order to prove herself to her mother, Athena, who is a rival of Poseidon. Consequently, she does not trust Percy to get the job done. While at first cold and standoffish, the two eventually warm to one another.

“She is covering up her feelings by being the tough girl and showing off,” Brown said. “She tries to be the best because she is hoping that, if she is good enough one day, Athena will want to come meet her. She is trying to find her place, hoping that one day someone will love her, and some day that she’ll be enough.”

The emotional turmoil within the main characters comes to the forefront in the show’s music, Oliphant said.

“With the music, you really get a feel for what some of these kids are going through,” she said. “When you read the books, you kind of understand the personalities and some of the motivations that exist behind the characters, but when you hear the music, they speak straight from the heart.”

Annabeth’s role is particularly musically challenging, Brown said, but worth the effort. She likened the music to a Greek chorus in its ethereal beauty.

“She is so complex and deep,” she said. “Some of her solos are so musically complicated that, when I told people I got this part, people were congratulating me for landing it primarily because of the difficulty of the songs she sings. She is crazy over-the-top, and I don’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase that kind of range.”

Bringing magical creatures to life on such a big production has been its own unique challenge, Oliphant said. To tackle it, the crew has tasked Jason Leong with creating the show’s graphic design and practical effects.

“Jason does really amazing puppeteering work, so we have brought him in to design an eight-foot Minotaur, among other things,” she said. “This is where you get to use everyone’s creativity.”

Calvin Nuttall is a Morgan Hill-based freelance reporter and columnist.