Lizard Boy is a musical of the moment. In its world premiere run at Seattle Rep, Justin Huertas’s show firmly grounds itself in the here (Seattle) and now (2015). Prepare for a theatrical experience featuring the gay relationship app Grindr in a leading role, superheroes, a variation of the Dick’s Drive-In double entendre joke that’s been a hit with middle school boys for decades, dragons, battle at Olympic Sculpture Park, Mount St. Helens eruption lore, and even a Jinkx Monsoon reference. But behind all the layers of pop-culture nerdiness lurks a sweet coming-of-age love story about an outcast that's bolstered by infectious songwriting.
The story centers on Trevor (Huertas), a young gay man with scaly green lizard skin as the result of a fateful kindergarten event involving a dragon and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. As a response to the outside world viewing him as different, he’s become a hermit and put up serious self-loathing mental barriers to protect himself. He breaks out from his sheltered existence by signing up for Grindr in hopes of finding an old flame, only to be messaged by Cary (William A. Williams), an extremely enthusiastic recent transplant to Seattle. Their impromptu date eventually ends up at a concert by the rock singer Siren (Kristen deLohr Helland) after Trevor sees her on the cover of The Stranger and identifies her as the woman who has literally been haunting his dreams. Things escalate quickly, and soon Trevor finds himself battling evil forces in an attempt to prevent the end of the world while also developing a connection with Cary.
All three actors slide smoothly into their roles. Huertas embodies the awkward insecurities of Trevor (as one would hope when writing a show for yourself) and deLohr Helland’s Siren effectively taps into the rock star bravado with a sinister side. That said, William A. Williams delivers Lizard Boy's standout performance, imbuing Cary with an irresistible mildly dorky charm and vocally nailing the part. The trio’s musical skills impress, though, while a certain timidity is inherent in Trevor’s character, Huertas’s softer voice sometimes gets overwhelmed a bit when singing in tandem with Williams and deLohr Helland.
Huertas’s songs are clearly Lizard Boy’s greatest strength. There’s a terrific pop sensibility to the tunes—a warmth to the lyricism without delving into cheesy territory—and despite the limitation of the trio performing all the instrumentation live on stage, the arrangements showcase surprising variety. There are single guitar-based tunes, like Cary’s adorable plea to get Trevor to return to his apartment after blowing his first impression (sung peering through the his door's peephole) and a song Trevor sings simultaneously to Cary in his apartment and Siren backstage via a nifty split-time staging (“Another Part of Me”). Those stripped-down songs contrast with twee tunes based around ukulele, kazoos, and bells, like “Recess,” which tells the story of the Mount St. Helens dragon that gave Trevor his powers. But the songs really soar when Huertas brings his cello into the mix. The strings add another layer of depth and dramatic build for numbers like “The Woah Song.” Unfortunately, after the start of the show, there’s somewhat of a cello drought until the show nears its conclusion.
The production gets a comic storytelling edge from the illustrations projected on the backdrop, which help illustrate actions without any elaborate set design or props. It could’ve been very cumbersome to naturally find a way to get the actors their instruments midscene, but it doesn’t seem clunky, thanks to the way director Brandon Ivie choreographed Lizard Boy’s movement. There are even a couple ingeniously clever touches, like a ukulele subbing in for a smartphone and the strum of the strings representing sending a message. The only substantial flaw on the technical side comes via Trevor’s lizard skin makeup, which consists of a very subtle dusting of green body gems on his arms and neck. While this might be practical, it looks severely underwhelming considering how self-conscious the character is supposed to be about how obvious they appear; there’s just a visual disconnect that asks a little too much of the imagination.
With it’s overwhelming currentness, Lizard Boy does not seem like a musical set up to age particularly well. But why worry about the future when these enchanting songs can be enjoyed in the moment?
Thru May 2, Seattle Repertory Theatre, $32–$52