Mount Olympus is here in Nashville — but only for a limited time.
The regional debut of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” under the direction of Ernie Nolan was a hit at the Nashville Children’s Theatre Friday, and the all-Belmont cast received a standing ovation from an excited audience of kids and adults alike.
Though the production was staged for young people, its symbolism was profoundly mature; it did not lack in authentic talent or authentic laughs, and at its heart, the show’s preteen heroes emerge with strength, overcome obstacles and forge empowering friendships along the way.
Based on Rick Riordan’s popular book series, the show follows 12-year-old Percy Jackson, played with the perfect amount of expressive teenage angst by Belmont sophomore Henry Beddoe. A social outcast whose only talent seems to be getting expelled from school, Percy discovers that his human weaknesses are actually godly strengths.
He discovers he is a half-blood — the son of a mortal mother and an unknown Greek deity — and is thrown into a world of monsters and magic, all while working through the daunting reality of being a teenager. While most preteens’ biggest challenge is tackling algebra, Percy’s is saving the world, and the fate of Mount Olympus rests on his young shoulders.
Avid fans of the books and newcomers alike will follow along with ease; the show begins with a musical crash course in Greek mythology and godly “daddy issues” that neglected half-bloods face from powerful parents who do not claim them.
Percy, after arriving at Camp Half-Blood, remains unclaimed by his godly parent and deemed a reject, but soon gains approval by his fellow half-bloods when his uncontrollable water powers work in his favor and reveal that he is the son of the sea god, Poseidon. This realization is not met with relief from Percy, but resentment towards his all-powerful yet all-absent father.
He teams up with Annabeth Chase, the tough-yet-vulnerable daughter of Athena played with sass and smarts by Sierra Fermin, as well as the satyr Grover, Percy’s loyal best friend performed with courage and expert comedic timing by Chris Sandoval. They set off on a quest to discover who stole Zeus’ lightning bolt and framed Percy for the crime.
The cast and casting are equally commendable. Belmont’s musical theater students truly outdid themselves and each actor brought their characters’ personalities to life brilliantly.
In addition to Sandoval’s Grover, the actor’s take on Mr. D, the not-so-thrilled orientation de-briefer at Camp Half-Blood is worth a mention. Without reading the cast list, it’s possible to mistake those characters for two different actors, and the versatile Sandoval captured both personalities well.
Another notable performance came from the powerhouse voice of Katie Yeomans; jaws dropped when she first opened hers. Her role as Clarisse, daughter of Ares, showcased her vocal strength, she received laughs galore as Mrs. Dodds, with her comedic take on the villain.
The ensemble, a casting addition not found in the original off-Broadway production, added vocal power and dimension to the production, along with exciting battle action and dance choreography from Belmont’s Jamie Bradley, the fight and dance captain.
In between the action, “The Lightning Thief” had its share of silly moments as well, breaking the fourth wall as well as playfully censoring lyrics as winks to the adults in the audience.
As for the little ones, they expressed their approval by waving around light-up swords like the characters.
As the song “Bring on the Monsters” closed out the performance, the cast stood undefeated, inspiring the audience to leave empowered and equipped to slay their own monsters and most of all encouraged that they don’t have to do it alone.
The debut of “The Lightning Thief” marks NCT’s return to its home stage and full audience after a COVID-induced hiatus that started in March 2020, the only time performances have halted since World War II.
It’s fitting that in NCT’s 90th anniversary year, this return is met with a victory cry and swords held high, a celebration of community, hope, joy and triumph not just in the Percy Jackson universe, but in our own world.
Live theater is back — thank the gods.
Read more about the show and hear from Belmont performers at the Vision’s preview coverage of “The Lightning Thief.”
“The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” was directed by Ernie Nolan. Musical direction by David Weinstein. Book by Joe Tracz. Music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki.
PHOTO: The cast of “The Lightning Thief” onstage at NCT. Courtesy of Ernie Nolan.
This review was written by Jaymey Hedberg. Updated Thursday.