It's probably not a surprise that there are scales in a show called "Lizard Boy," but not just the green, reptilian kind that cover the titular hero head to toe. This story can't be told without a whole lot of musical scales — and a menagerie of instruments, from guitars to glockenspiels. Music is the superpower that the show's trio of cast members shares.
In fact, from the show's soundtrack, which has found popularity online, to the small but mighty cast, to the longtime collaborations that underpin "Lizard Boy," the hero's reptilian scales might be one of the least striking things about this indie-folk rock musical. "Lizard Boy" is now playing in person and streaming at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley through Oct. 31.
The original "Lizard Boy" cast, made up of the show's writer/creator Justin Huertas, actors Kirsten "Kiki" deLohr Helland and William A. Williams, along with director Brandon Ivie, has developed the show off and on for the better part of a decade.
"Lizard Boy" made its world premiere in 2015 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, but the musical's foundations go back farther, to 2011 when the Seattle Rep commissioned the show and Huertas called on his friends Helland and Williams — who had also previously worked with him on other projects — to join the cast.
Helland recalled that, at that time, she didn't really play any instruments, but that's no longer the case.
"As the show developed, and we started learning more about what the style of the piece was going to be and how we wanted to score the piece, it became clear that there were going to be an endless number of instruments that were played," she said with a laugh.
Over the course of about eight years, both Helland and Williams learned a host of instruments, some more expected on a musical theater stage than others.
"I play the guitar and piano, I play ukulele, glockenspiel — this is my first time playing the glockenspiel. We have a kazoo chorus," Williams said.
One of the first things Helland learned was flute, at Huertas' behest, for another show he had created. That laid the foundations to eventually learn how to play many more instruments for "Lizard Boy," she said, crediting Huertas' support and encouragement.
"That's really how I did it. I mean, honestly, he just has so much faith in his friends and he believes in our talents and our ability to learn. He just said, 'I believe you can, and we have time.' And it's true, once I put my brain in that place, I discovered that I was able to learn new things," she said.
"Lizard Boy" starts with a first date but quickly turns into an epic journey to save the world. Trevor (Huertas), the Lizard Boy of the title, is a young gay man who lives in Seattle, used to keeping to himself due to a strange childhood accident that caused him to be covered in green scales.
But, as the pandemic perhaps has taught us all, daily isolation is tough, so as Trevor hops on the dating app Grindr in the hopes of finding his ex, he instead encounters the charming, new-in-town Cary (Williams). Cary convinces Trevor to meet, but they soon find themselves confronting the villainous Siren (Helland), who has big plans and a magnetic voice that Trevor recognizes — it haunts his dreams.
"Cary is new in town, to Seattle. And he's a fun guy but he's really lost at the moment — he's lonely. He's reaching out and trying to meet some people, but having a little bit of a difficult time doing that. The interaction he has with Trevor, it's a little more honest and real than the stuff that he's experienced before," Williams said.
Williams, who is now based in New York City, is not new in town when it comes to the Bay Area: he grew up in Los Altos and attended Mountain View High School. He said he took the opportunity of being in town with "Lizard Boy" to show his castmates around where he used to live, and take them to San Francisco.
The show has been performed in various venues, from its Seattle debut to San Diego’s Diversionary Theatre, staged readings at Playwrights Horizons in New York and an online performance for the 2020 National Alliance for Musical Theatre Festival, and the longtime collaboration of the show's original cast members has allowed for deeper development of the characters.
Helland says that although the easiest way to describe Siren is as the supervillain of the piece, the character has grown to be much more than that.
"In early versions of the piece she was pure evil — just wanted to be queen of the world, and would do anything she wanted in order to make that happen," Helland said, noting it quickly became apparent that the character needed more dimension.
"She's a complicated woman who is very lonely, partially because of the choices she's made and partially just because of the world that she lives in. She really seeks companionship and friendship and a connection to someone who understands her, and is also driven by that," she said.
"Over time, both of our characters have really been fleshed out and had a chance to become more complex, '' Williams said. "It's really great, because I know every time I come back to it, there's just going to be a little more for me to take out of the character."
And it's between meeting a new love and a possible new foe, and an eventual battle to save the world, that Trevor begins to see his scales differently. As much as superheroes seem to be larger than life, the best superhero stories look at the inner emotions of its characters — and explore what their "superpowers" actually are.
"The thing that I love the most about 'Lizard Boy' is that no matter who you are, anyone could look at Trevor, and see his scales and immediately understand and connect to your own personal scales, and how that affects your journey in life," Helland said. "The biggest theme for me in the show is that no matter what your scales are, whatever is the thing that you think is negative about you is actually the thing that makes you the most positive, and the strongest, the most independent and the most special person."
"Lizard Boy" plays in person through Oct. 31 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View. For more information, visit theatreworks.org.