‘Lizard Boy’: Life Can Be Difficult When You’re Scaly, Green, and Queer

Like other contemporary, youth-centric musicals such as “Be More Chill,” Justin Huertas’s off-Broadway entry mixes fantastical elements with earnest appeals for sensitivity and inclusion, and the blend isn’t always a smooth one.

Billy Bustamante
Justin Huertas in 'Lizard Boy.' Billy Bustamante

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog first informed us, via the great Jim Henson, more than five decades ago on “Sesame Street.” Since then, musical theater has brought us another iconic character alienated in part by her lime-colored skin: Elphaba, the decidedly sympathetic variation on the Wicked Witch of the West who defies gravity, and animal cruelty, in “Wicked.”

The hero of the new musical “Lizard Boy” has, it could be argued, even bigger problems. As the result of a childhood accident that left him soaked in a dragon’s blood, Trevor — played in the show’s off-Broadway premiere by Justin Huertas, who also wrote the book, music, and lyrics — has not only developed the titular reptile’s sickly hue but has grown scales. Director Brandon Ivie and costume designer Erik Andor use no sophisticated tricks to convey this; per Mr. Huertas’s instructions in the script, the title character’s skin tone and texture are simply “suggested” by his clothing.

The musical’s creator and star, who is Filipino-American, specifies that the actor should be a person of color, further emphasizing the metaphorical value of Trevor’s condition. Like Mr. Huertas, the character identifies as queer; when we meet him, he is scouring Grindr in search of a new companion, having been “kissed and then dumped and then blocked” by some guy precisely a year ago. It’s the day of Monster Fest, the annual festivity during which celebrants dress like lizards, and thus the one time of year where Trevor, ironically, doesn’t feel like a monster.  

Our protagonist promptly connects with another lonely soul, a rather overeager young man named Cary, played with disarming sweetness by William A. Williams. But their budding relationship is soon complicated by the arrival of a woman referred to as Siren, who pops up first as a vision in Trevor’s dreams and then at a club called The Crocodile, represented in Suzu Sakai’s cluttered, vivid “scenic adaptation” as a colorfully seedy joint in the spirit of New York’s storied CBGB, or The Crocodile Café in Seattle, where “Lizard Boy” had its premiere to acclaim.

Kiki deLohr gives Siren a fittingly potent, sometimes abrasive voice and presence, and like Messrs. Huertas and Williams, she also plays several instruments, so that during musical numbers the three performers essentially become a band. Mr. Huertas’s primary instrument is cello, and his emotive playing takes center stage at points, though all three are nimble musicians and singers, lending sumptuous vocal harmonies — and playful touches of ukulele and kazoo — to the driving, often catchy tunes showcased under Steven Tran’s muscular music direction.

The show’s narrative, in contrast, can seem a bit labored. Like other contemporary, youth-centric musicals such as “Be More Chill” and “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical,” the latter adapted from the popular children’s novel, “Lizard Boy” mixes fantastical elements with earnest appeals for sensitivity and inclusion, and the blend isn’t always a smooth one. A climactic sequence pitting Trevor against Siren feels drawn-out and melodramatic, not least of all because of Mr. Huertas’s insistence on milking sympathy for a character who might otherwise have been written off as a villain.

Then again, at a time when shades of gray can seem like an even rarer commodity than green skin, be it in the arts or political discourse, the desire for balance and overflowing compassion that inform “Lizard Boy” provide something of a balm — if you can get past those suggested scales, of course.

The New York Sun

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