Justin Huertas & Kiki deLohr in ‘Lizard Boy’ (photo: Billy Bustamante)
by Joey Sims
Lizard Boy is a frustrating experience. It’s a fantastically resourceful staging of an oft-gripping new musical, but a few fatal missteps keep the show from reaching greatness.
Justin Huertas wrote the book, music and lyrics for his comic book-inspired rock musical, which premiered in Seattle in 2015 and has had multiple runs since, most recently at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The original cast and director now reassemble for its New York bow.
Lizard Boy follows Trevor (Huertas), a gay 20-something who rarely leaves his apartment following a dragon attack that left him with green, scaly skin. One night after hearing a mysterious siren call in his dreams, Trevor impulsively finds a date on Grindr. The ensuing evening takes him on an epic journey, with one hook-up leading fatefully to a world-ending dragon attack.
Director Brandon Ivie and his team do a lot with a little in Prospect Theater Company’s smartly crafted production. Trevor’s scaly skin is suggested with a few simple touches of make-up. Moody, frightening lighting by Brian Tovar conjures an odyssey across Seattle despite the set’s relative simplicity. And the wall-shaking sound design, by Kevin Heard, is surprisingly intense for a Theatre Row experience.
Ivie draws wonderful performances from Huertas’ co-stars William A. Williams and Kiki deLohr. Williams is super charming as Trevor’s Grindr date, Cary, and has great comic timing. But the clear highlight of the evening is deLohr, who plays Siren, the mysterious woman from Trevor’s dreams. deLohr’s voice is phenomenal, her stage presence uniquely commanding. That gravitas helps her sell a lot of potentially hokey dialogue establishing the show’s lore. That lore is familiar, but original enough that it just about works.
All three performers also do impressive double-duty as both actors and musicians, and Ivie smoothly incorporates their instruments into the action.
The trouble is twofold: Huertas’ book, and his own performance as Trevor. When Huertas the writer takes his own story seriously and grounds it genuinely in Trevor’s trauma, the show works. The echo of PTSD stemming from 9/11 and other contemporary disasters in Trevor’s scaly wounds is especially effective. But Huertas constantly undercuts the story with a winking, cutesy “Did that just happen?” jokiness. (Curse you, Joe Iconis!) Casting himself in the lead, meanwhile, was a huge mistake–Huertas is blown off the stage by his far more talented co-stars.
So ultimately, it’s a frustrating show. Many of the songs are effective, particularly deLohr’s numbers, and Ivie’s staging does captivate. But without a strong center or a consistent tone, Lizard Boy ultimately frustrates as often as it thrills.
Book, music & lyrics by Justin Huertas; directed by Brandon Ivie
June 1 – July 1, 2023
Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St