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Musical ‘The Lightning Thief’ brings striking theatrical elements to Community’s stage

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  • Gibson Smith (’23), Leslie Burton (’23) and Killian Boyd (’23) star as the show’s leads, playing Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood.

    Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson
  • A professional fight coordinator worked with the musical’s performers to choreograph the show’s seven fight scenes.

    Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson
  • Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson
  • Gibson Smith rehearses battling a minotaur at dress rehearsal. In his quest to return Zeus’s lightning bolt to Mount Olympus, Percy Jackson faces foes from Greek mythology.

    Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson
  • The musical’s live music pit will join the cast onstage for the first time in recent history.

    Photo Courtesy of: Mr. Jeff Christopherson

“The Lightning Thief” opens its run on Community’s stage Thursday, April 20, packed with striking theatrical elements—fight scenes, an onstage rock band and otherworldly LED lighting.

Based on the first book in Rick Riordan’s best-selling “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series, the musical follows the adventures of regular teen turned demigod Percy Jackson (Gibson Smith).

Jackson—after learning that his father is Poseidon (Christian Hofmann), Greek god of the sea—begins an epic quest to stop a war from being waged between the gods. 

Teaming up with fellow demigods Annabeth Chase (Leslie Burton), Luke Castellan (Nick Baca) and satyr Grover Underwood (Killian Boyd), Jackson travels across the United States and the Underworld, battling monsters and gods alike to save the world. 

While audience members might be familiar with “The Lightning Thief’s’” plot, the show’s music director Mr. Ben Luginbuhl said the production feels anything but familiar.

“It’s angsty teen music,” Luginbuhl said, “all very rock. “It’s very modern, very rhythmic, very enjoyable….” 

And very new. 

For the first time in Luginbuhl’s 25 years as music director, a live rock band will accompany the cast on stage.

In years past, Community’s band room served as the musical’s pit, Luginbuhl said, with the live music broadcasted into the auditorium during performances.

This year, those musicians—two guitarists, a bassist, a keyboardist and a drummer—perform with the cast on stage, adding another layer of visual perspective.

The band “is part of the set… we’re characters in the show,” Luginbuhl, who plays keys during the show, said, “so you can see [us] playing throughout the whole [production].”

In place of the musical’s traditional ensemble dance numbers, “The Lightning Thief” features epic fight sequences as Percy and his friends take on mythological creatures from minotaurs to Medusa.

Each moveeach slash and lunge, dodge and strikewas carefully choreographed weeks in advance. 

“Every move that you see in the show has been choreographed by a professional [fight coordinator],” Luginbuhl said.

“That’s unique,” the choir director said, as 2005’s “West Side Story” was the last production to feature professionally choreographed fights. 

The fight coordinator instructed the actors on “how to advance and retreat, how to show that they’re getting hit,” Luginbuhl said. 

The onstage clashes are visually striking, as sound-responsive LED lights simulate multicolored lightning onstage.

The two-hour show features over 130 light cues in total, well above the average for a Community musical production.

The dramatic visual effects on an otherwise sparse set, musical director Ms. Beth Topping said, are purposeful. 

“The musical is supposed to seem like it’s just being pulled together on the spot,” Topping said, “so…we work toilet paper and leaf blowers into the show and pull trash can lids to be weapons.”

In addition to the show’s production value, Topping, in her 23rd year of directing, hopes the musical’s source material attracts audiences.

As a language arts teacher reading the Percy Jackson books with her junior high students, Topping said, the musical carried a sense of nostalgia that she hoped her high school audiences would share.

“You don’t have to have read the books to follow the musical,” Topping said, “but if you have… it’s just that extra element of fun.”

As an avid reader of the Percy Jackson books, senior Gibson Smith, the show’s lead, shares that sentiment.

“I dressed up as Percy Jackson for Halloween…[and] I feel like a lot of kids that read the Percy Jackson books always wanted to have that experience,” Smith said. “It’s like I’m living out a dream.”

 

“The Lightning Thief” runs April 20, April 21 and April 22 at 7 p.m.; April 22 and April 23 at 2 p.m. 

Tickets—$10 for reserved seats and $8 for general seating—are available online or at the door 30 minutes before performances. 

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About the Contributor
Avani Rai, Editor-in-Chief
Avani Rai is a senior at Normal Community High School and is a part of the Speech Team, FBLA, and Swim team. This is her second year working with the Inkspot, where she is a senior staff reporter. Random fact about me is I've been to 10 countries outside of the United States. My hidden talent is that I am a fantastic procrastinator. My slogan to live by is never be afraid to make someone's day. Whether that's something small, like complimenting someone in the hallways, or something big, like advocating for what you believe in.    
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