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Lizard

Also see Sharon's review of The Two Gentlemen of Verona

Lizard
David Eldon, Laura Philbin Coyle and James Barbour
Lizard is a show without an audience. The world premiere musical by James J. Mellon and Scott DeTurk has all the signs of a standard children's theatre piece. The story revolves around a fifteen-year-old boy who, unwanted by his guardian, is dumped in a home for the mentally retarded even though he is not, in fact, slow. When a pair of itinerant actors visits the home, the boy runs away with them, in search of adventure. The plot involves outlandish disguises, a zany theatre company, a Native American legend, and a valuable silver bowl which the boy is falsely accused of stealing. On paper, Lizard, based on the "young adult" novel of the same name, seems just the thing for kids.

Except it clearly is not for kids. It isn't just the expletives (up to and including the "n-word") and the gratuitous shot of a woman in her bra. The show goes to very dark places, including an offstage rape of a teenager, and it doesn't have the tidy happy ending the show promises. The result is a show that, in many places, is too silly and shallow for adults, but is also often too mature and deep for children. If there is an audience for this show, it is an extremely narrow one.

Lizard is not only flawed in concept, but unsuccessful in execution. The first problem is with the protagonist himself. Lucius is called "Lizard" because he has some sort of facial deformity. It is extreme enough for the boys at the school to call him a "freak." Most everyone he meets asks what on earth happened to him. He is called a "subhuman humpbacked thing" and he's able to pass for a dog. And yet, I was sitting in the second row and, with the exception of a possibly misshapen nose, I couldn't figure out what was wrong with Lucius's appearance. Scott Ramp is credited with "Lizard Prosthetic and Make-Up Design," but he hasn't created anything nearly freakish enough to justify the entire premise around which this show is built.

Another problem is with the cast, which ranges wildly in quality. James Barbour plays Callahan, the actor who takes Lucius under his wing, and he is by far the best voice on the stage. He gets the most assistance from the company in ensemble numbers. Indeed, perhaps the best-delivered number in the show is "Everybody Needs Shoes," a light-hearted song in which Callahan poses as a shoe salesman and gets the entire children's home excited about footwear. But Callahan isn't the only character who has solo numbers, and nobody else is in the same league as Barbour. Most of the other voices onstage are at best competent and, at worst, unable to get through an entire song without hitting some bad notes. A notable exception is Cortney Wright, who plays the Indian girl, Rain, with a lovely and passionate singing voice.

Some others in the cast manage good characterizations (if not noteworthy singing). Laura Philbin Coyle plays Sally, the actress travelling with Callahan. Coyle has a very honest style, and she's believable both in her hesitance to accept Lucius as a companion and her almost maternal kindness to him when she sees he's in need. Bob Morrisey is also excellent as a kindly museum curator who just oozes decency. When it's called for, David Eldon gives Lucius a wonderful joyful smile that lights up the stage.

If it sounds like the show plays better in its children's theatre moments, that's because it does. When Callahan goes undercover as the shoe salesman, the glue around his fake moustache glistens, in a subtle, but not too subtle, way for Lucius and the audience to know his true identity. When Callahan, Sally, and Lucius hit the road, they sing a cute road-trip song ("You're Goin' There Too"), which is interrupted by humorous pee breaks. Musically, the show's dramatic ballads fail to make an impression, while its lighter numbers are bright and smart. All things considered, the show might have a future if it commits fully to being a piece for younger audiences.

Lizard runs at NoHo Arts Center through September 3. For information, see www.thenohoartscenter.com.

NoHo Arts Center presents an Open at the Top production - Lizard based on the novel by Dennis Covington. Scenic Design Craig Siebels; Lighting Design Luke Moyer; Costume Design Shon LeBlanc; Sound Design Jonathan Zenz & Scott DeTurk; Lizard Prosthetic Design Scott Ramp; Hair & Make-up Design Robin McWilliams; Assistant Director & Production Stage Manager Karesa McElheny; Musical Direction Robbie Gillman; Press Representative David Elzer/Demand PR. Music & Lyrics by Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon. Book and Direction by James J. Mellon.

Cast:
Callahan - James Barbour
Lucius Simms - David Eldon
Miss Cooley - Janet Fontaine
Bus Driver - Curtis C
Nurse Barmore - Melanie Ewbank
Walrus - J.R. Mangels
Ricardo - Bryan Coffee
Mike - Jonathan Zenz
Mr. Tinker - Bob Morrisey
Sally - Laura Philbin Coyle
Homer - Jonathan Zenz
Knute - J.R. Mangels
Sammy - Brandon Ford Green
Rain - Cortney Wright
Preacher Jones - Curtis C
Wanda - Melanie Ewbank
Eddie - Bryan Coffee
Miranda - Shannen Ferreira
Rhonda - Janet Fontaine
Bartender - Bryan Coffee
Robert Howell - Bob Morrisey
Woman - Shannen Ferreira
Bess - Melanie Ewbank

Photo: Michael Lamont


- Sharon Perlmutter






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