Broadway producers in search of a great new songwriter should check out Justin Huertas’ musical “Lizard Boy,” which had its New York City premiere Wednesday at Theatre Row after engagements in Seattle, Edinburgh and elsewhere.
Huertas’ musical palate runs the gamut from hard rock and bubble gum, to plaintive ballads and vintage patter songs. Even better, his lyrics are always clever, often downright sly, and they never feel forced or banal. Of the more than a dozen titles sung here, not one of them is a dud or merely marks time. Frankly, the “Lizard Boy” score is far superior to the four nominated scores that didn’t win the Tony Award on Sunday.
Huertas stars as Trevor, the title role, and backed up with vivid style by William A. Williams and Kiki deLohr, who play Cary (as in Grant, not Bradshaw) and the Siren (the woman in red). This awesomely talented trio also play an orchestra pit full of string and percussive instruments. And just when you thought director John Doyle had exhausted the practice of actor-singers accompanying themselves, “Lizard Boy,” under the frisky direction Brandon Ivie, makes it all seem wonderfully novel again.
In the first few scenes of this musical about a lizard boy who leaves his apartment only once a year, on Monster Fest day (a day that allows him to have people believing he is just wearing a costume), Huertas’ show recalls Michael R. Jackson’s “A Strange Loop,” another musical where the songwriter also wrote the book. In “Loop,” the hero sings about what it’s like to “travel the world in a fat, Black, queer body.” In “Lizard Boy,” Trevor (Huertas) isn’t fat or Black, but he is as green as he is gay. Before that description also conjures up images from “Wicked,” it should be pointed out that Ivie’s direction doesn’t resort to any obvious stage effects. Trevor’s greenness is suggested through the lighting, by Brian Tovar, and a few streaks of sparkles sprinkled across this character’s face and arms (costumes by Erik Andor).
Even more intriguing is that in this musical’s first few scenes, it is not entirely clear whether Trevor is a human-size lizard or if he just thinks he’s a lizard, because, in 1980, when Mont St. Helen’s erupted, forces were released that “contaminated” some children playing in a schoolyard nearby, giving them special powers.
At the top of the show, Trevor tells us he has not had great success hooking up with other gay men because of his bizarre appearance. A clever twist is that, with Trevor’s first Grindr date, it’s the other gay guy, Cary (Williams), who comes off weird. There are even more echoes of “A Strange Loop,” but “Lizard Boy” is no rip-off: Huertas’ show had its world premiere in 2015, Jackson’s in 2019.
As with “Loop,” and Jackson’s follow-up effort, “White Girl in Danger,” Huertas’ hero is a gay male character who lives vicariously through his fantasies about divas. In Jackson’s two musicals, they are white girls. In “Lizard Boy,” she is the Siren, a hard-living performer who sings rock and turns out to have been an old schoolmate of Trevor’s.
When they finally meet, Cary and the Siren don’t exactly hit it off. The reasons why are very complicated, and in having to explain the logic and the parameters of this fantasy (volcanic eruptions imbuing kids with special powers), “Lizard Boy” gets bogged down in way too many plot points. While the score never fails to enchant for 95 minutes, the narrative loses it way somewhere between the Siren explaining why she killed a few of her classmates and Trevor being upgraded into a dragon whose pointy scales inadvertently harm Cary.
Is there a sequel in the works to help explain everything?
“Lizard Boy” is presented by the Prospect Theater Company.