SOTA’s Lightning Thief was electrifying

By Farah Bassyouni Mar 4, 2022

From puppets to sword fights, Illinois Wesleyan University’s School of Theater Arts’ (SOTA) performance of The Lightning Thief  was a joy. 

Based on the first book in Rick Riordan’s hit series, the musical adaptation of Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, follows 12-year-old Percy as he discovers he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon, fights a Minotaur, meets other half bloods and goes on a quest to stop a godly war. 

While IWU’s adaptation stayed somewhat true to the novel’s young-adult target demographic, some of the actors’ characterization choices and talent left the mostly college-aged audience delighted. 

The original characters are already notoriously funny, but the actors’ takes on them left the audience in stitches. Perhaps the most notably hilarious performance was junior Mikey Votaw’s take on the centaur Chiron, complete with dignified galloping and attached hindquarters. 

Mikey’s dedication to prancing around, even during the most tense scenes, pulled what can only be referred to as guffaws from audience members sitting close to me. The costume was designed by Kyle Pingel and everyone I talked to said it was one of the best parts of the show.

Seniors Michael McNeela, Erika Harper and junior Ethan Hart captured Percy’s heroism, Annabeth’s spunk and Grover’s awkward comedic relief perfectly. Hart said the show began as “a return to that awkward period in our lives when we think everything different about us is a bad thing,” but ended showing that those differences are what make us so special.

The sophomore class also particularly wowed me, with performances from Sam Fahrenkrug’s chilling portrayal of Luke and Landon Kreller’s hilarious Mr D. 

The music was, true to the show’s name, electrifying. Justine Dacres’ performance of “DOA Records” left me awestruck. Olivia Herlein’s powerhouse vocals were in a league of their own. While some of the songs were less memorable than others, the performances were always full of heart and thoroughly enjoyable. 

Though I entered the show not quite sure what to expect,  I knew that nostalgia alone would make the show enjoyable. As someone who read and loved the Percy Jackson books as a child, the dedication of the actors and the adaptation’s commitment to preserving the novel’s witty charm was impressive. Any and all expectations I did have were exceeded by a mile.  

It was clear that the cast members were very passionate about the production. Ethan Hart said the show “was an emotional experience for me, especially saying goodbye to Camp Half Blood, but the friendships I made in the production will last longer than the show ever could.”

This show didn’t take itself too seriously, leaning into its junior-high humor. From jokes about evil substitute teachers to Elvis impersonators, I could not stop laughing throughout the entire show. 

I can honestly say my one and only critique is that I wish the puppet choir featured in “DOA Records” had been on stage the whole time. 

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