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Michael Mucciolo

By Barbara Anne Kirshner

High adventure, edge of your seat excitement, mesmerizing with mythology sprinkled in, that’s The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, currently receiving its Long Island premiere at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center.

Anyone in their teens knows Rick Riordan’s popular 2005 YA novel with similarities to a Harry Potteresque quest, but instead of wizards and wands, Percy must face mythological creatures and Zeus’ lightning bolt. 

The theatrical version, with music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki and book by Joe Tracz, was adapted from Riordan’s first novel in the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series about a boy who discovers he is a demigod possessing magical powers. 

The musical opened Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2014 as a one-hour show receiving positive reviews before heading into a national tour, then returned to the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2017 this time with an augmented script. It debuted on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre on October 16, 2019 and ran through January 5, 2020. A 2010 film preceded the musical and presently, a television series is in the works for Disney+.

When the president of the board at SCPA, Michael Mucciolo, was asked why such an innovative yet unfamiliar show to many adults was chosen for their season opener, his response was the hope for the future of theatre lies in attracting both youngsters and adults. From the size of the audience at the time of this review, it seems Mucciolo was right. The house was crowded with eager youngsters accompanied by parents who became fans if the enthusiastic standing ovation at curtain was any indication.

The technical aspects of this magical adventure are impressive. From lighting designer Chris Creevy’s strategically placed strobes to flashes of white lights to mood reds combined with sound designer Jacques St. Louis’ thunderous effects and echoes, each detail builds suspense. The set, constructed by Keith Blum, Jacques St. Louis and Michael Mucciolo, with an upstage screen that projected at once stars then fire, then swirls of smoke, then a silhouette of a tree against an orange sky adds intensity to scenes. 

A particularly thrilling projection was of a Minotaur (half bull, half man) attacking Percy, his friend, Grover, and killing Percy’s mom, Sally. To avenge her death, Percy kills the Minotaur and the projection has this monster keel over and disappear. Additionally, a scaffolding with levels gives flexibility with set changes.

Director Robbie Torres keeps the pace electric assisted by a talented cast with strong voices and playing multiple characters. In the lead role of Percy Jackson, Jason Steven Kopp captivates as the troubled teen with ADHD and dyslexia who is always getting into trouble. Percy was raised by a loving mom, a mean stepdad and wonders about the natural father he never met. 

In a sudden revelation, Percy discovers he is the son of Poseidon, and thus begins his quest with two of his pals to find the lightning bolt that will prevent war between the gods. With innocent eyes that reach out and spirited vocals, Kopp sends chills especially when he challenges “bring on the monsters, bring on the real world.” Though this is a fantasy, the message that your differences may be blessings in disguise that help you rise up and be strong is very real.

When Percy kills the Minotaur, he is knocked unconscious only to wake in a land called Camp Half-Blood, a place for children who are half mortals just like him. It is revealed that his friend, Grover (Cyd Rosenberg), is a satyr, a Greek goat-like protector. Grover remains at Percy’s side through his quest. Also joining them is Annabeth (Lorelai Mucciolo), a daughter of Athena, a strong leader offering Percy direction. Rosenberg and Mucciolo sparkle with robust voices and heartfelt performances. 

A campy moment happens when Clarisse, one of the demigods at Camp Blood, (Mairead Camas) tries to harm Percy, but he is saved when the toilet he is hiding in sprays her with water. Camas with a glint in her eye makes for a menacing villain. 

Peter J. Osterman is dynamic, taking on several roles including Percy’s Latin teacher Mr. Brunner who assists him at several pivotal points and is frightfully delightful as Auntie Em. In the role of Percy’s mother Sally, Ayana Franck gives a tour de force performance. Her vocals reminiscent of Aretha Franklin are powerful and her portrayal as the mother who will do anything even sacrifice herself for her son is gripping.

Rounding out the cast is David Reyes as Luke the son of Hermes who entices Percy to go on the quest that will take him to the Underworld where he will find his mom. Reyes turns in a polished performance with his smooth stage presence and compelling vocals. But is his character friend or foe? Only time will tell.

Assisting in visual effects are the fantastic costumes by Carmela Newman including Grover’s fur appendages for legs, a specter draped in white gauze wings outlined with electric lights and Auntie Em’s green satin robe trimmed in black fur. Julie Stewart’s choreography keeps the energy high and the action is enhanced by thrilling sword play sequences compliments of Heather Legnosky. In addition to directing the show, Robbie Torres takes on musical direction orchestrating an exuberant audio track accompaniment.

SPAC’s action-packed The Lightning Thief grasps you right from the start and doesn’t let go until the final note is sung. This is truly a feast for the entire family. 

The Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main St., Smithtown presents The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical through Oct. 29. Tickets are $40, $35 seniors, $25 students. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

By Heidi Sutton

There is a well-known saying in the theater world — “the show must go on.” And even among a debilitating pandemic that has forced many theaters to temporarily close their doors, the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts has found a way to do that with another well-known saying — “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

In partnership with the Smithtown Historical Society, the theater is currently staging a colorful outdoor production of Disney’s “Moana Jr.,” and it could not have come at a better time as parents struggle to keep their children entertained with limited options. Through Aug. 15, the socially-distanced, one-hour show, presented with no intermission, will be held on the shaded grounds of the historical society’s Roseneath Cottage at various times throughout the week.

Rehearsals were already underway when the pandemic took hold, according to executive producer Michael Mucciolo, and then continued virtually until the end of June. “The first step was to see if the parents and kids had a desire to do the show in this new safer environment and if any did not then we wouldn’t have explored the idea any further. After a resounding yes we worked with our board, as well as legal and health professionals. Then we put out a request for volunteers to support us and without any of them we would not have felt comfortable with performing,” he explained in an email.

The decision to move the production outdoors came after the theater was approached by the Smithtown Historical Society (SHS). “It was the evolution of an idea after the SHS graciously offered the use of their space and to show the community what SHS has to offer in terms of tranquil outdoor spaces,” said Mucciolo.

Originally scheduled for April, the show opened on July 24 and has already sold out numerous performances.

“The response from the community has been amazingly positive. Some had concerns not having a full understanding of what this would be like but people have been very appreciative of all the hard work the cast, crew, and staff have done to make this happen in a safe way. The story of a girl facing uncertainty and loss, finding friendship and bravery is so important right now. It is especially at home in this open space framed within picturesque trees and the sounds of nature,” said Mucciolo.

Featuring songs written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Opetaia Foa’i and Mark Mancina, the musical introduces us to Moana (Gabriella Fugon), the strong-willed daughter of Chief Tui (Logan O’Leary) and his wife Sina (Priscilla Russo) who live on the Polynesian island of Motunui.

When a blight on the island causes the coconuts to turn black and the fish to disappear, Moana follows the advice of her grandmother (Gianna Oppedisano) and  embarks on a journey across the Pacific Ocean to find the demigod Maui (Michael Gualtieri) in hopes he will help her return the heart of Te Fiti (Savannah Shaw), the Polynesian goddess of earth and life, and save her people.

Along the way, the pair make a detour to Lalotai, the Realm of Monsters, to retrieve Maui’s magical fishhook from Tamatoa (Dori Ahlgrim/ Alia Romanelli), a giant coconut crab, and battle the lava demon Te Kā (Savannah Shaw).

Directed by Courtney Braun and Jordan Hue, with musical direction by Melissa Coyle, the stage adaptation follows the storyline closely and includes all of the wonderful songs in the film including “How Far I’ll Go,” “Shiny,” “I Am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)” and “You’re Welcome.”

The cast members, ranging in age from 11 to 17, do a tremendous job bringing the story of “Moana” to life on stage with special mention to Michael Gualtier who plays the demi-god Maui in a way that would make The Rock proud. His rendition of “You’re Welcome” is hilarious. But it is 17-year-old Gabriella Fugon, perfectly cast as Moana, who steals the show. Her beautiful rendition of “How Far I’ll Go” is breathtaking and when she sings “I am Moana” the audience will believe it too. She even looks like Moana!

The costumes by Ronald Green III, choreography by Courtney Braun and the incredible set by Mike Mucciolo tie the show together nicely.

Both the Smithtown Historical Society and the theater have taken many steps to make the performances as safe as possible for both the cast, crew, and audience members. “Studies have show your risk of being exposed to Covid-19 is 95% lower outdoors than indoors, because of wind dispersing and sunlight breaking down the virus does not allow for particles to concentrate like in a store or restaurant. Safety is not just from a business concern as members of the production team are also parents of cast members and so do not take lightly anyone’s health,” said Mucciolo.

The Cast: Dori Ahlgrim, Gabrielle Arroyo, Riley Ferraro, Gabriella Fugon, Michael Gualtieri, Aubrey Gulle, Derek Hough, Anabelle Kreitzman, Jackson Mucciolo, Lorelai Mucciolo, Gianna Oppedisano, Priscilla Russo, Dylan O’Leary, Logan O’Leary, Zach Podair, Alia Romanelli, Jonathan Setzer, Savannah Shaw, Juliana Spataro, Ari Spiegel, and Justin Walsh Weiner.

Bathrooms are available on the premises and souvenirs, including flower sunglasses, flower hair clips, leis and paper fans,  are available for purchase.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts presents “Moana Jr.” at the Smithtown Historical Society, 239 East Main St., Smithtown through Aug. 15. Up to 75 tickets are sold for each performance with ticket holders safely distanced in their groups away from others and masks are required. All seats are $18. To order, visit www.smithtownpac.org.

All photos by Courtney Braun