POWER TRIO: Kirsten “Kiki” deLohr Helland, Justin Huertas and William A. Williams, creators and stars of the new musical Lizard Boy.
While preparing for his first foray into writing a musical, theatrical prodigy Justin Huertas fell in love with the folk group Joseph.
“Their harmonies were crazy,” he says, “and how simple and transportable it can be with one guitar so captivated me.”
The Portland trio inspired Huertas to develop a new approach to writing music. Instead of developing a book, Huertas took a decidedly indie-rock approach, reaching out to two close friends of the local Seattle theater scene, Kirsten “Kiki” DeLohr and William A. Williams.
“Every song I literally brought to ‘my band’ and taught them by ear,” says Huertas. “I would come and bring pages of script, lyrics, sometimes chords. I’ve always wanted to be part of a band, and it’s as close as anything to be part of it. “
The culmination of their work is Lizard boy, a coming-of-age folk-rock superhero story with plenty of comic book flair, making its South Bay debut at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley with the original cast. Lizard boy follows the story of Trevor, who was born with green, scaly skin and forced at the margins of society, until he finds love and higher responsibility. The musical is “told” by its three stars in the form of a live folk recounting the myth of the Lizard Boy.
The superhero aesthetic of the musical has a lot of history for Huertas.
“Hero myths have always been a part of my life,” he says. “The comics came first for me. I grew up with superheroes, like X-Men, Spider-Man, and Power Rangers. When I had the opportunity to create a show, it was obvious: comic book superheroes!
After starting to play the cello at age ten and singing in high school, Huertas became interested in acting and dived head first into the world of musical theater. “The theater is where all of these skills intersect,” he says.
Although he gained some national experience playing the cello on the national musical tour Spring awakening, Huertas has found a truly fundamental home in the Seattle theater scene.
“The company of Lizard boy, the four lizards (director and actors), all entered the Seattle theater scene around the same time, ”says Huertas. “Whenever we had the chance, we would reach out and grab each other. ”
When asked by a local theater to write his first musical, Huertas initially said he was nervous. “It was something I wasn’t comfortable enough to do yet, but I knew exactly who to talk to. Huertas called on Williams and DeLohr, brought in Brandon Ivie to lead, and the group was formed.
The room’s stripped-back independent sensibilities, sense of humor, and stunning comic book-lined decor (also drawn by Huertas) have won many fans, but what seems to resonate most is the heartfelt retelling of the story. search for belonging and identity from the margins.
“I wanted to create a character that was queer, but the queer character was incidental to the main character’s story,” Huertas says. “Trevor’s whole struggle with his identity has always been about racial otherness, growing up brown and Filipino in very white spaces.”
He was then surprised to see the play frequently referred to as a coming out story, and LGBTQ viewers telling him that it resonated so strongly with their own experience of accepting their identity. Similar to Marvel’s X-Men, Huertas has created a story that is about a much more universal struggle than he initially might have thought.
“I guess it’s still kind of a story for Trevor, about claiming your own power,” Huertas said. “It’s Marvel Comics meeting Once and Grindr.”
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