‘Lizard Boy’: Musicalizing comic books as American mythology

Oct. 18, 2021, 7:12 p.m.

For decades, comics have lived in children’s imagination — shaping their ideas of heroism, adventure and community. In those small panels exist some of our greatest role models, drawn in spectacular detail. These heroes have made it onto the big screen — but what if one could bring them to the stage? That is exactly what Justin Huertas set out to do in 2011 with his original musical, “Lizard Boy,” now playing in-person at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley for the company’s 51st anniversary.

The production centers on Trevor (played by Huertas), a recluse living in Seattle who feels defined by his lizard skin — obtained via a childhood encounter with a magical dragon. He comes out only once a year for Monsterfest, a holiday during which people dress up as magical creatures — Trevor can blend in with confidence. One year, Trevor meets Cary (William A. Williams), a Seattle newbie, on Grindr. As Trevor navigates his newfound relationship with Cary, he encounters Siren (Kirsten “Kiki” deLohr Helland), who tells him of a prophecy: dragons will end the world the next day, and he must help her stop them.

Not only does Lizard Boy feature an immensely talented three-person cast, but it also skillfully incorporates musical instruments into its blocking. Huertas, Williams and deLohr Helland play guitar, piano, cello, ukelele, kazoo, egg shaker and various percussion instruments, even using some as weapons. In an interview with The Stanford Daily, Director Brandon Ivie said that their skillful instrumental employing “adds to this sense of fun that Justin has in his writing and allows the show to really embrace the imagination that has gone into the story.”

‘Lizard Boy’: Musicalizing comic books as American mythology
Siren (deLohr Helland) tries to convince Trevor (Huertas) to join her. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne)

There are not many shows in the American musical theater repertoire that are based on comic-book structure and storytelling. Productions such as “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” were cut short due to performer injury and high-risk stunts attempted onstage. “Lizard Boy” finds its comic book connection outside these anatomical planes —  through its meticulous character development.

“Comic books and the characters and stories in comics actually lend themselves remarkably well to musical theater, because at its core, [telling stories through comics] is about people searching for identity and hope. A lot of it is about family and [characters] finding who they are. They have a lot of things to sing about,” Ivie mused in our discussion. He perfectly described comic books as “American mythology,” encompassing their timelessness and universal appeal.

From the audience’s point of view, the simplicity of Ivie’s staging and minimal theatrical effects put all the focus on the actors themselves. Each performer dazzled with their vocal versatility and ability to sing while dancing and playing myriad instruments. Ivie wanted to emphasize the characters’ journey because it is more rewarding than the temporary theatrical spectacle on which film and TV often focus in superhero storytelling.

‘Lizard Boy’: Musicalizing comic books as American mythology
From left to right: deLohr Helland, Huertas, Williams sing with an ensemble of musical instruments. (Photo courtesy of Kevin Berne)

Personally, this show hit home. Having grown up in Seattle myself, I immediately recognized the projections of famous Seattle landmarks such as the Space Needle, Olympic Sculpture Park and even the Dick’s Drive-In sign. On the phone, Ivie and I joked about how he is sending TheatreWorks actually used Dick’s Drive-In wrappers for props. Furthermore, I grew up going to the same theater (Village Theater) where Huertas and Ivie first met years ago when they were in school.

Lizard Boy” is an endearing and grounded story for the masses; incorporating elements from traditional comic book structure and musical theater-style spectacle, this production is the perfect in-person theatrical experience after a year and a half of being isolated from the theater community.

“Lizard Boy” is available to watch in-person between Oct. 6 and Oct. 31, 2021, or via on-demand streaming from Oct. 19 through Nov. 7, 2021. For more information, please visit the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley website.

Chloe Chow '23 writes for the Arts & Life section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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