Connor Savage hadn’t read the book.
And his teacher had never heard of it.
But when musical theatre students at Terry Fox Secondary pressed drama teacher Zelda Coertze to consider The Lightning Thief for the Port Coquitlam high school’s next winter musical, both Savage and Coertze did some serious digging.
Savage, Grade 12, spent the summer catching up on the Percy Jackson adventure while Coertze saw a professional production in Vancouver.
“I loved the character,” said Savage, who auditioned for and won the role for his stage début last September, at the start of the school year.
“It was modern and refreshing,” added Coertze after seeing the CTORA Theatre show last May in Vancouver. “It has something for everyone.”
Based on the novel by Rick Riordan, the story follows Percy Jackson as he discovers that he’s the half-blood son of a Greek god and learns that he has special powers he can’t control; he is also accused of stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt.
To prove his innocence and to stop a war between the gods, Percy Jackson is joined by Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood for a trip to the Underworld. There, he must solve the riddle of the Oracle that warns him about a betrayal.
Coertze said the cast of 32 students in grades 9 to 12, plus 10 crew members, is looking forward to the production — the first time a Percy Jackson show has been mounted in School District 43.
“Most of them grew up reading the series, and I really wanted to do something different,” she said.
“I didn’t want a love story. This is an adventure. The script encourages the casting director to look beyond the stereotypes; that really caught my eye.”
Still, viewers unfamiliar with Percy Jackson “don’t have to have read the book. It’s a mash-up of modern references and Greek mythology. If you like the idea of Poseidon reframed as a surfer dude in a Hawaiian T-shirt, this is for you.”
Marlo Maas, who like Savage is also making her high school stage début, said she sought the role of Annabeth Chase, the smart, stubborn girl.
“She’s very similar to me,” said the Grade 10 student who trains with the Lindbjerg Academy of Performing Arts in Coquitlam.
“She’s very important to me. She is a character that I wanted to portray, but in a different kind of light.”
As for Savage, he told the Tri-City News on Tuesday, Jan. 30, during a rehearsal that he plans to have his friends and family in the crowd on opening night at the Terry Fox Theatre.
“They know I’ve been doing this for months but I’m not sure they know what I’m capable of," he said.
"I’m happy to be on the stage because I love performing. When I’m comfortable and I know that I can do it then my fear fades away and I get into the emotions of the character. It’s very rewarding to be involved in the musical theatre world.”
The Lightning Thief musical runs in the Terry Fox Theatre (next to Terry Fox Secondary, 1260 Riverwood Gate, Port Coquitlam) on Feb. 21, 22, 23, 28 and 29, and March 1. The curtain rises at 7:30 p.m. Call the school reception at 604-941-5401 for tickets. The musical director is Taylor McKee, a UBC music and psychology undergraduate.