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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review

You think you can be an actor---Cal
You probably have to pretend to be somebody else, right?---Lizard
Oh, yeah, that's all it takes.---Cal

One of the first requirements of a successful production is that the audience has to care about the characters. In this respect Lizard succeeds brilliantly in the title character of Lucius "Lizard" Simms, played and sung with haunting sensitivity by David Eldon.

Complemented by the superb singing voice and acting chops of James Barbour as the actor Callahan and an excellent supporting cast, Lizard couldn't have a better family of midwives for its world premiere at the NoHo Arts Center. Dennis Covington's novel, which won the 1991 Delacorte Prize for young adult first novel, has been adapted as a musical by Scott DeTurk and its director, James J. Mellon. Mellon's directing talents shine here on a set of many levels made of simulated pinewood by Craig Siebels, given a shadowy and mysterious lighting design by Luke Moyer. Although this design gives the set an umber-colored warmth and the flickering aspect of leaves in a forest, there's no differentiation between indoor and outdoor spaces. However, the atmosphere evoked does hold the audience which may work to its advantage in a fairly small space.

There is nothing whimsical about the story of Lucius Simms, a boy born so facially disfigured that he is given the nickname "Lizard"" in the School for Retarded Boys to which Miss Cooley (Janet Fontaine), the woman who raised him, reluctantly consigns him. He comes into his own when one of the boys goes ballistic when the portable radio that gives him peace is broken. Lizard, who has been mute until then, sings the evocative "Blue Skies Lullaby" in a sweet light tenor and not only is peace restored to the boy but Lizard becomes one of the gang. He grows throughout the play, displaying the stubborn courage of someone who has never known fear and finally the ability to express his emotions. That plot sees him invited to run off by Callahan, an actor/manager who insists to his partner Sally (Laura Philbin Coyle) that the boy will make a perfect Caliban. Barbour has the dramatic range for the play's most developed character, an actor who hasn't had a job in two years, a man who can't hold his liquor and has had a lifetime of sorrows which he is now trying to salvage.

Lizard's future and his past are both tantalizing mysteries which are resolved by the play's end. Along the way there's a secondary plot when Lizard meets beautiful Rain (Cortney Wright) and her endearing brother Sammy (Brandon Ford Green), who are terrorized by the lecherous Preacher Jones (Curtis C). After almost three hours, the end doesn't come soon enough. There are many more words than songs and they are more expositional than revelatory. Too many of the lyrics have the familiar ring of Rodgers and Hammerstein's walking through a storm in "Carousel" without that musical's melodic thrill. The score has the rural beat of Louisiana 1978 where the play is set and is a pleasant accompaniment to the story.

One of the most charming numbers, "And So It Is", is delivered with riveting simplicity by Bob Morrisey as Museum Director Robert Howell. A jolt of zing is delivered in "Just Imagine"" by the ever reliable Melanie Ewbank as Wanda. Many actors play several roles.

With tightening, this could be a particular winner with children's theatres. Ending the second season of the excellent Open at the Top Productions, the resident company of The NoHo Arts Center, it demonstrates the versatility of their commitment to new productions that include family theatre.

LIZARD (based on Dennis Covington's nove)
Music & Lyrics: Scott DeTurk and James J. Mellon
Book and Director: James J. Mellon
Cast: .James Barbour (Callahan), David Eldon (Lucius "Lizard" Simms), Janet Fontaine (Miss Cooley, Rhonda), Curtis C (Bus Driver, Preacher Jones), Melanie Ewbank (Nurse Barmore, Wanda, Bess), J. R. Mangels (Walrus, Knute), Bryan Coffee (Ricardo, Eddie, Bartender), Jonathan Zenz (Mike, Homer), Bob Morrisey (Mr. Tinker, Robert Howell), Laura Philbin Coyle (Sally), Brandon Ford Green (Sammy), Cortney Wright (Rain), Shannen Ferreira (Miranda, Woman).
Set 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
Musical Direction: Robbie Gillman
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes, one intermission
Running Dates: July 21-September 3, 2006
Where:..The NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood. Reservations: (818) 508-7101.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on July 21.

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