THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Pit & Balcony Kicks off 91st Season with Regional Premiere of a Fast-Paced Modern Musical About the Transcending Circumstances Confronting Our Lives
Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, , From Issue 935 By: Robert E Martin
15th September, 2022 0
The mythological Greek demigod known as Prometheus earned his place in history by stealing fire from Zeus and giving it to humanity in the form of knowledge and civilization. With The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical slated to open Pit & Balcony Community Theatre’s 91st season, the regional premiere of this 2019 Broadway musical turns the spotlight upon a 12-year old boy named Percy Jackson who discovers new powers that he cannot control, a destiny he does not want, and a litany of monsters he must confront as he embarks upon an epic quest to find Zeus’ missing lightning bolt in order to prevent further conflict and restore order to the world.
Currently in rehearsals and slated to run from October 7-9 & 14-16, this piece of expansive and tightly interwoven musical theatre initially debuted Off-Broadway in 2014 as a one-hour musical and went on a national tour. A new version with a fresh musical score and expanded script opened Off-Broadway in 2017 and then played a 16-week limited run on Broadway in October 2019, but was forced to close on January 5, 2020 due to the pandemic.
The man charged with bringing this ambitious musical production to the stage is Director David Ryan, who previously directed a production of two plays from the Percy Jackson collection for a theatre of young audiences, and has also directed numerous plays for the Vanishing Elephant Players out of the Masonic Temple in Bay City. He graduated from Saginaw Valley State University in 2014 with a degree in theatre; and this work will mark his directorial debut at Pit & Balcony.
When asked about the approach he is taking with translating this sprawling production for the regional stage, Dave says he is taking an economical approach. “It’s funny, because when this work debuted as a small show and then went to Off-Broadway it got rave reviews, but the minute it made its way to Broadway and got a little bit of money invested into it critics said it was both over and under-produced, so I feel like Community and Regional Theatre is the sweet spot to be for this production”
With a narrative that follows the journey of the central protagonist, Percy Jackson, who happens be a 12-year old boy with both ADHD and dyslexia who has managed to get himself expelled from school six times and has a loving mother but a very abusive step-father, Dave feels all the figures harrowing from the annals of Greek Mythology serve as interesting set-ups for advancing the narrative.
“What I love about this play is that it’s really about a young kid coming to terms with situations he is put into,” he reflects. “He has no relationship with his real father and an estranged relationship with his step-father, so must learn to use his own inner strengths and acknowledge his personal weaknesses in order to do great things.”
When asked about the key themes or sub-texts contained within The Lightning Thief that he’s trying to bring out and emphasize as a Director, Dave references the inner journey that each of us are destined to pursue throughout our lives. “For me the central theme in this production centers around this idea of finding your inner strength and realizing your self-worth separate from your circumstances. For Percy this translates into sort of developing a working relationship with your family, but not necessary getting your strength from that so much as from the things that drive and define you, which gives one a sense of a ‘found family’.”
As for his biggest challenge tackling this ambitious musical, Dave quickly responds how is focus is upon following the KIS (Keep It Simple) principle. “A lot of times community theatre tries to do things beyond the scope of community theatre, so I’m trying to make this as simple as possible as far as sets, costumes, and props go; and not go overboard with other technical aspects as well. I want to tell the story through the music and the characters and follow the Principles of Theatre as stated by Aristotle in the Ars Politica: “the spectacle is sixth behind the plot and character and theme and even music.”
While the score and narrative that carries a good balance between singing & speaking, Ryan notes that the speaking scenes are relatively short. “Because this musical is written from the perspective of a 12-year old with ADHD & dyslexia, the speaking scenes are relatively short and jump around at a fast speed to capture that sense of being.”
With a cast of seven actors portraying and providing the symmetry between 30 different characters, the cast consists Emma Pichan in the lead role of Percy Jackson; Rhiannon Evans-Hall as Annabeth Chase; Nikolas Conrad as Grover/Mr.D; Spencer Beyerlein as Luke/Ares/Gabe and the Minotaur; Amber Hadley as Sally Jackson/ Silena Beauregard and Charon; Greg Allison as Mr. Brunner (aka Chiron/Poseidon/Aunty Em & Hades) and Hannah Hartwell as Clarisse LaRue / Katie Gardner/Thalia & Squirrel, Dave says about 18 people auditioned for the production and speaks high praises for the cast.
“Emma is a marvelous actress because she that sort of ‘Can do’ naïve attitude about her that enrichens the role of Percy,” reflects Ryan. “Rhiannon in the role of Annabeth is sort of the brains behind the main group of friends populating Percy’s world and is also very brainy in real life, which brings authenticity to that character as well. Nick Conrad plays Grover and Mr. D (Dionysis) and brings a fabulous energy to the character. Grover is gender non-conforming in our production and wears high heels so they make it look like he has goat hooves when he transforms into his character as a satyr. And Spencer Beyerlein handles the roles of all the antagonistic characters like the Stepfather, Aries the God of War, and the Minotaur who attacks Percy in the first act.”
The music will be provided by Dr. Todd Thomas playing keyboards and conducting a 5-piece band called ‘The Olympians’ and vocal direction is by Ray’mond Fields, with choreography by Gina Kearly, who just finished choreographing Midland Center for the Arts production of Rent.
“For folks who love young adult fantasy & literature the Percy Jackson series is right up there with Harry Potter,” concludes Ryan. “Since this musical is based on the first book in a series of five books, arguably many feel this is a better series; and while marketed to a younger audience it consists of universal characters that because we’ve all been kids we can all relate to.”
“Plus, while the original production was set in New York, we’re trying to give it a more Midwest feel so hit on the idea of staging it at a summer camp that we call ‘Camp Half-Blood’. A lot of the staging is based upon this production idea of going to summer camp, so what little set we have is meant to look like the audience is sitting at an amphitheater with the play being acted by older campers performing to the younger kids who come to see it.”
The regional premiere of ‘The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical will run from Friday - Sunday, October 7-9 & 14-16. Friday & Saturday performances are at 7:30 PM and Sunday matinees are at 3:00 PM. Tickets are $20.00 and can be purchased by visiting PitandBalconyTheatre.com or phoning the box office at 989-754-6587.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)