For everyone who’s ever felt excluded, rejected, or less than human for being “different” (and for anyone who simply goes gaga for thrillingly original musicals), Lizard Boy has made its way south from Seattle to San Diego’s Diversionary Theatre. Let the buzz begin!
The brainchild of actor-singer-writer-musician Justin Huertas (whose own Filipino-American “otherness” as serves as its inspiration), Lizard Boy transports us to a world of comic book superheroes and mythical dragons and gay hookup apps, that is to say a world unlike any you’ve seen in a musical, no matter how many hundreds of them you may have seen in your life.
Huertas himself stars as 20something Trevor, transformed by dragon blood (it’s a long story involving an erupting Mount St. Helens and an ill-fated kindergarten recess) into the titular Lizard Boy, so ashamed of his hideous green scales that (like Quasimodo on the Feast Of Fools) he dares leave his apartment but once a year, in Trevor’s case on the night when all of Seattle dons reptilian wear to celebrate the city’s annual Monsterfest.
(As in the play The Elephant Man and the musical Violet, Lizard Boy leaves it up to us to imagine how Trevor looks to the outside world, his scales only suggested by a glittering of green sequins on flesh-colored sleeves.)
It’s actually thanks to last year’s Monsterfest that a virginal Trevor got to be (in the iconic words of Madonna) touched for the very first time, and tonight it’s the memory of that one-and-only one-nighter that has our hero Grindr-seeking the fake lizard who got away.
Who actually ends up appearing at Trevor’s door is dorky new-kid-on-the-Seattle-block Cary (William A. Williams), and before long the freshly-minted dynamic duo are off in search of Siren (Kirsten deLohr Helland), the blonde bombshell who’s been haunting Trevor’s dreams, and who turns out to be performing tonight at Seattle’s legendary rock club The Crocodile.
What Trevor learns from the siren-songed seductress sets our hero off on a mission that would test any superhero’s mettle, let alone a nerdy gay recluse like Lizard Boy. Still, when the fate of the world depends on you, what else is there to do but fight?
If it’s not already obvious, there has never been anything quite like Lizard Boy, and not merely in concept but in execution, for not only do its three stars act and sing, they are the show’s three-performer band.
Cello, guitar, piano, ukulele, xylophone, and even kazoo, Huertas, Williams, and Helland play them all, and in one electrifyingly inventive sequence, even use several of the above to do comic book-style battle.
Huerta’s book and lyrics are clever and funny and touching, his indie-rock songs grow catchier with each listen, and the message this coming-of-age tale has to impart is a powerful one, and not just for LGBT youth (Trevor’s gayness is actually the least of his concerns) but for everyone of any age who aches to let their freak flag fly.
Under Brandon Ivie’s excitingly ingenious direction, Lizard Boy’s three stars do absolutely sensational work, as actors, as singers, as musicians, and as choreographed fighters.
Huertas and Williams are both so instantly endearing that one can’t help but root for Trevor and Cary to make it to their second date (and far beyond), and Helland is the very definition of fierce in addition to possessing some of the most spectacular pipes in town, whether that town happens to be Seattle or San Diego or New York City (where Lizard Boy could well be off-Broadway-bound).
Huertas’s comic-book-inspired projection illustrations (yes, he wears that hat too) are just one part of another terrific Diversionary Theatre production design, San Diego talents Joe Huppert (projection design), Matt Lescault-Wood (sound design), Ron Logan (scenic design, projection design), and Curtis Mueller (lighting design) joining Seattle’s Erik Andor (who also designed costumes for Lizard Boy’s Pacific Northwest World Premiere) to stunning effect.
Jon Huckaby is stage manager. Additional program credits are shared by Laura Marshall (projection colorist), TJ Fucella (mix engineer), Scott Amiotte (master carpenter), Kate Bishop (costume coordinator), Ashleigh Scott (charge artist), and Peter Herman (wig and makeup specialist).
Entertaining and empowering in equal measure, Lizard Boy looks to be the season’s breakout San Diego smash. Get ready to stand up and cheer the unlikeliest of superheroes ‘cause Lizard Boy has come to town.
Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Boulevard, San Diego.
October 8, 2016