Award-winning multi-talented Seattle-based playwright, composer, lyricist, actor, and musician Justin Huertas is now expanding his Warholian “fifteen minutes of fame” with a critically acclaimed audience-embraced smash-hit NYC debut at 42nd Street’s Theatre Row, as the eponymous character in his first original musical Lizard Boy. And a new live cast album, with a release date to be announced later this year, is being recorded at three performances before in-house audiences at the theater this month, following the original blockbuster cast recording that has been streamed more than three million times on Spotify.
Presented by Prospect Theater Company, the quirky, funny, and empowering queer coming-of-age story, which was commissioned and premiered at Seattle Repertory Theatre in 2015, and then went on to become a fan favorite at the 2022 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, integrates segments of gay romance with dream sequences, comic-book adventure, sci-fi fantasy, camp humor, and indie-rock music, to follow the transformation of a lonely outsider with green scaly skin to an unwitting Superhero, who finds inner strength, self-acceptance, and love as he battles the approaching apocalypse.
Huertas, a gay Filipino-American artist-activist who grew up with such popular modern myths as the Power Rangers, Spider-Man, X-Men, and other Superheroes, has become committed in his work “to dismantling and decolonizing American mythos one original fairy tale at a time,” with affirmations of Black, Brown, and Queer joy and power, as he has done this Pride Month with the current NYC production.
Since Lizard Boy, Huertas has written a few more fully original fantasy musicals to advance that mission, including The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion (co-composed with Steven Tran) and We’ve Battled Monsters Before, along with the music and lyrics for Book-It Repertory Theatre’s adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle, The Lamplighter (co-written with Sara Porkalob and Kiki deLohr), Lydia & the Troll (co-created by Ameenah Kaplan) for Seattle Rep, and, playing this past March, The Mortification of Fovea Munson (with Mary Winn Heider, based on her novel) for DC’s Kennedy Center.
During his busy performance schedule at Theatre Row, Justin made time for our Pop interview, to share his feelings about his burgeoning career and insights into his background and the show.
- What’s the most fabulous thing about being on stage in NYC?
Justin: Oh my gosh, the audiences are the most fun and loud we’ve ever had, and that’s so validating since we work so hard!
- Which song in Lizard Boy do you most look forward to performing?
“Another Part of Me.” It’s a moment when Trevor connects the most deeply with the other two characters, Siren and Cary. I love to share art, and in the show, this is when Trevor is attempting to share his art and they jump in and deepen it.
- What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from an audience member?
It’s any time Trevor and Cary hold pinkies and I hear people in the audience go, “Aaaaawwwwwhhhhh,” and I think, “Oh, good, you’re rooting for us!”
- What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Imaginative, sensitive, and confident.
- Which came first for you – singing, drawing, playing an instrument, or cracking jokes?
Before you even finished the question and said it, I thought drawing! But now that you finished, I think cracking jokes, which I’ve been doing since I was a little kid – and then I just added the story.
- Which do you enjoy most?
I would have to say I love playing music and singing the most. As much as I love playing a character, if I could play gigs for the rest of my life, I would be just as happy.
- What’s your first creative memory?
Drawing an elephant – my favorite animal when I was a child. My father would buy me little elephant toys and I would draw them, so I think I just refined my drawing from that.
- What is it about comic books?
It’s the artwork and how much action you can capture in an image. That action is also reliant on you turning the page. I tried to capture that in a live musical.
- Do you have a favorite Superhero?
Yes! Wanda, the Scarlet Witch; I loved her before she was cool! In 2016 or ’17, I bought a guitar and named it Wanda, and then, in 2021, WandaVision happened, but I loved it way before, from the comics. I’m an OG fan!
- If you had a pet lizard, what would you name it?
Maurice. I don’t know why I said that, it was a rapid-fire answer. But I like pets having the names of old white men; I think that’s very endearing.
- Who, or what, has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
One of my dearest friends in Seattle is Sara Porkalob, who was recently in 1776 on Broadway. Her play Dragon Lady, about her own Filipino family history, was the first time I saw that representation on stage, so I want to make sure my community continues to get that feeling of being seen.
- What comes first – the music or the lyrics?
Both! I guess it always starts with one lyric – a line or a phrase – but then I immediately think of how I would sing it, so it’s back and forth between the two.
- What do you do for fun when you’re not performing or creating music or theater?
It’s all I do! I love that I make art and theater all the time, but for my brain breaks I watch YouTube cooking videos. So now I think I should write a musical about cooking. It never stops!
- What do you hope audiences take away from Lizard Boy?
I needed to learn how to stand in my own power and I hope that inspires audiences to stand in their own. The metaphor of green lizard skin can be whatever it means to anyone, so I hope they leave powerful, confident, and happy. And I hope their stomachs hurt from laughing so much!
- What’s the best thing about becoming famous?
Am I famous? I truly don’t think of myself that way, but I went to an Off-Broadway show with my partner Tyler when he was here and a person in the audience tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you the Lizard Boy?” And it made my day! That was such a cool moment that I was recognized in New York.
Many thanks, Justin, for sharing a fabulous 15 minutes with us! Congratulations on your stellar debut in New York and best wishes for much continued success and fame in the future.