BWMT Electrifies Playhouse Square with “The Lightning Thief”


The much-anticipated run of Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre’s production of “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” struck Playhouse Square’s Helen Theatre the weekend of April 22-24. 

Directed by BW alum and star of “The Lightning Thief” on Broadway Chris McCarrell, the production quickly sold out and marks the 15th year anniversary of BWMT and Playhouse Square’s annual spring partnership. 

“The Lightning Thief” is an adaptation of the Rick Riordan book of the same name. It follows the story of Percy Jackson, a young boy who discovers that his long-lost father is a Greek god. He finds a community in Camp Half-Blood with other demigods like him. 

After Percy is accused of stealing Zeus’ powerful lightning bolt, he must go on a quest with his best friend Grover and unlikely companion Annabeth to retrieve the bolt. On the way, he discovers a sense of confidence and belonging. 

“It’s this great story of underdogs, triumphing, [and] good versus evil,” junior Katelyn Baughman, who plays Annabeth, said. “Underdogs can end up on top, and people that you never expected to become the best of friends can become very close.” 

For his directorial debut, McCarrell has challenged himself to take a show he knows very well and flip it on its head, creating a production that is distinct from the Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of “The Lightning Thief.” 

McCarrell said he had been waiting for the chance to step into directing for years, and he was excited to finally be given the chance, especially after spending three years developing this musical with the creative team. 

“The Lighting Thief was just the one show that I felt was in my artistic [and] stylistic wheelhouse as a performer and therefore as a director,” McCarrell said. “I also had the experience creating this show to finally allow someone to trust me enough to helm a production of it.” 

Unlike the previous professional runs, McCarrell said that he did not solely rely on Riordan’s book in his adaptation of the musical. He rather focused on doing justice to the script and score, “which has the DNA of the books.” 

“We honored the soul of the story even more authentically by approaching this [process] unrestrained and liberal and bold… which is the exact heart of Percy Jackson to begin with,” McCarrell said. 

Students like first-year Jonah Warhaft, who plays Grover, were encouraged to try different ideas and to bring their own creativity to the process. This personal involvement, along with the work ethic of the other cast members, kept Warhaft motivated in his first BW production.  

“I have never been a part of a process that’s so creative and so collaborative,” Warhaft said. “Working with somebody who knows a show that well is so helpful because there is not a single question that I have that can’t be answered.” 

The three main characters of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are double casted, and both Warhaft and Baughman have benefited from watching their counterparts perform, while doing individual research on their respective characters.  

Collaborating with Playhouse Square has allowed a junior like Baughman, who has only worked with BW creatives thus far in college, to experience a professional theater environment where the operations are run very “smoothly… while still being very alive and active.”   

“We are creating our own environment and world,” Baughman said. “Let’s dig deep and explore… how we’re going to make this our own show–not just taking from the Off-Broadway production or taking directly from the books.” 

McCarrell drew inspiration from Gen Z culture in an attempt to modernize the show, collaborating with the students and incorporating elements from their lives. He said that Gen Z is building a world that is “transformative and comes from within that generation’s soul.” 

“The end of ‘The Lightning Thief’ is a choice that these kids make to go back out into the world to create an environment that they feel is fitting for them to thrive in,” McCarrell said. 

Because “The Lightning Thief” is based on a beloved book and has a connection to McCarrell, there was great demand for the BW production by a myriad of people in the Cleveland area. The musical sold out quickly, leaving many in the BW community without tickets.  

Even after adding another performance to their one-weekend run, tickets for the 150-seat theatre were difficult to acquire and sold out fast.  

McCarrell said that because “The Lightning Thief” national tour in 2019 did not perform in Cleveland, this “created a “big vacuum” of appeal for the audiences.  

“I think there’s a big demand to see what this show’s all about,” McCarrell said, “so I would not be surprised if another theater reaches out… to stage the show again.”