When Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Artistic Director Jerry Manning commissioned an original musical piece from Justin Huertas, a talented actor, composer, singer, musician and illustrator, he didn’t know what it would be exactly, but Manning and adapter/dramaturg Andrea Allen were willing to bet it would be amazing. Lucky for them and audiences everywhere, that bet paid off in a big way with LIZARD BOY, the most original musical seen onstage since New York Fringe favorite “Urinetown” ten years ago. It’s a perfect opening show for the Diversionary’s 31st Season, as it exemplifies the artistic vision and boundary-pushing support of the theatre to the LGBTQ community.
LIZARD BOY is a modern day comic-book, angst filled coming of age story focusing on Trevor (played to perfection by Justin Huertas), a lonely creative young man with a, shall we say, unusual affliction. Due to an other-worldly accident as a child following the eruption of Mount St. Helens, and an unfortunate run in with a fire-breathing dragon, Trevor has morphed into a half-man/half lizard-like creature, his skin glistening with iridescent green scales. Talk about being the ultimate loner; Trevor channels his pain and anger into his music and his art, which is mostly sketches of superheroes and disturbing visions that run through his dreams.
At “Monsterfest”, the one day of the year in Seattle when everyone dons monster costumes, Trevor feels safe enough to venture out where he blends into the crowd without comment. His newfound confidence enables him to decide to reach out on the gay dating website “Grindr” in search of his first (and last) love. Instead, he hooks up with a charming, goofy musician named Cary (winningly played by William A. Williams) who is new himself to Seattle. Even more than romance, Cary is desperately seeking a connection for friendship and maybe more.
The two meet and decide to check out “Monsterfest” when Trevor spies a magazine on Cary’s coffee table with the image of the woman who has been haunting his dreams lately: the tough-as-nails singer named Siren (a powerhouse performance by Kirsten deLohr Helland). After going to see her perform at a local club, Trevor shares his songs and visions with Siren, setting off a chain of events that grow and explode into a classic battle of good vs evil, love over hate, acceptance over rejection.
The show has been a work in progress and labor of love for the three performers who are amazingly synchronized in their focus and dedication to seeing this project through to a possible transfer to New York (fingers crossed).
LIZARD BOY owes some of its indie-pedigree to off-Broadway musicals like “Urinetown” also “Brooklynite”, which was directed and co-written by Tony-winning “Spring Awakening” director Michael Mayer. Huertas cites “Spring Awakening” as a rich source of inspiration to him, both as a performer and eventually a playwright and composer.
His inspired mashups of classical cello with beatbox and ukeleles lends originality and humor to his achingly personal score. The show features sixteen songs (with two just added for this production at Diversionary) and all featured instruments are played by the three talented performers to great effect.
Huertas is the soul of this musical. Not just because it’s his own story at its base, but he makes you feel so much of what’s in his heart from the first moment he appears. His multiple talents are perfectly showcased and he reveals the beauty in Trevor, peeling off the layers of protective emotional garb hiding his reptilian appearance.
As Siren, the “dream girl” with a blood red soul, deLohr is a fierce and powerful presence with an amazing vocal range. She can be really scary, but her slightly warped sense of humor and snarky lipped delivery makes her less menacing and somehow more vulnerable. She’s a bona fide star in Seattle, having played everyone from Maria Von Trapp to Sally Bowles, winning awards along the way.
Williams has what could have been a supporting role, but he expands Cary’s initial “twinkie” persona into a real guy with hidden depth which he slowly reveals to Trevor through songs and gestures. He never gives up on love, and you find yourself rooting for these two to work everything out and defeat that dragon, once and for all.
Kudos must go to not only the young performers who maintain their energy and focus for 95 non-stop minutes, but also to director Brandon Vie who deeply understood the message that Huertas was conveying and handled it with care. The thrift shop retro costumes by Erik Andor, and dark foreboding scenic design by Ron Logan are illuminated by the lighting design of Curtis Mueller. The atmospheric sound effects were the perfect undertone for the show thanks to Lighting Designer Matt Lescault-Wood and Mix Engineer TJ Fucella.
The script still needs some tweaking here and there (the ambiguous final image), but I have no doubt that the production will be fine-tuned to perfection.
The show is predicted to sell out during its run, so just in case you can’t see it, I highly advise you listen to the soundtrack which is available via CDBaby, Spotify and Amazon. You will hear the soaring harmonies, tight musical riffs and powerful voices to best advantage and prepare yourself for seeing the show live – if you can score some tickets, that is.
LIZARD BOY is at the Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.in University Heights. It plays Thursday at 7 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm through October 30. Tickets may be purchased online through the Diversionary website.