The Seattle actor and playwright Justin Huertas grew up on a diet of superheroes and comic books. He loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Spider-Man and X-Men, carving out his own identity from all the characters that he loved to follow. Huertas has also been playing the cello since he was 10 and his high school obsession with musicals like Hello, Dolly! and Les Misérables led to him composing his own music and writing lyrics. So when he was commissioned to write a show for Seattle Repertory Theatre seven years ago, he decided to write himself in as the hero, and play his cello too.
Lizard Boy is his pop rock musical; a story about a boy called Trevor who acquires superpowers after dragon’s blood is spilled on him. He grows green scales which, alongside his telekinetic powers, almost jeopardises his chances of romance with Cary, who has been flirting with him...
It’s a queer, sci-fi, coming-of-age story about Grindr, catfishing, shapeshifting and first dates, with songs that have earned it a cult following in the States, and more recently, new fans in Manchester. Huertas brought the show over to the Mill Theatre where it had its UK debut in July.
As a gay American Filipino man writing Lizard Boy back in 2015, Huertas was unaware of the impact his show would go on to have.
“My own coming out story was very boring and uneventful,” he explains. “I was privileged to have the most supportive parents and a great community at high school. I needed to make it more interesting when I wrote about it, so I gave myself green lizard skin and made that the point of drama instead. It was only later that I came to realise, that I came up with that metaphor because I had a lot of trauma related to my skin. I was a young brown person existing in very white spaces. The lizard metaphor was my response to my upbringing and trying to fit into this world where I don’t feel like I fit.”
Over the seven years that Lizard Boy has been performed, representation for queer people of colour has thankfully changed for the better according to Huertas, who was touched by some of the early responses he got to his musical.
“In 2015 people came to see the show and told me afterwards how much it meant to see someone like me be onstage, and be quirky and weird and also be in love, and be a hero, and save the day. I really didn’t know until we were in performances how kind of revolutionary that was.
"I’m so happy to see that there are more and more works and spaces being created now by and for queer people of colour. It’s amazing.”
Bringing Lizard Boy to Edinburgh for its debut Fringe performance, Huertas hopes the audiences will like it, and hopefully leave with some of his songs stuck in their head.
“Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, however you identify, or whoever you love, I hope we help you make you feel not only more comfortable in your own skin, but more empowered in your own skin. You should feel powerful standing in your identity and sharing your identity with the world. That’s kind of the whole message behind the show.”