“The Lion” is a musical written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, in which he tells the story of his life through an emotional lens. The production takes place on a stripped-down set featuring six guitars and strategically placed mementos from his life.
Scheuer begins by singing about the cookie tin banjo that his father fashioned for him when Scheuer was a child. The initial 10 minutes of the musical seem innocuously sweet, but Scheuer reveals more layers of emotion to tell a beautifully imperfect, gritty story. Scheuer narrates the story of his reaction to his father’s death, his family’s move to England, his move back to the United States, meeting his girlfriend and his cancer diagnosis. This all leads to the discovery of himself, his own voice and his own sound.
One of the central themes of “The Lion” is the healing power of music and how it has shaped Scheuer’s life. He narrates his life by crooning beautiful folk ballads with his powerful, smooth voice. Scheuer plays five acoustic guitars and one electric guitar, each telling a different story about a different period in both his life and musical career. Both the music and dialogue are conversational and inclusive of the audience — the absence of the fourth wall makes it easy to connect with Scheuer.
Scheuer gracefully tackles the concept of the one-man show through the narrative style of the dialogue and by skillfully distinguishing between characters. Simple changes in lighting complement and emphasize Scheuer’s change in character.
Scheuer makes good use of the small space — his movements and motions are intentional and meaningful; he moves purposefully on the small stage, successfully communicating his emotions to the audience. The intimate arena-style seating contributes to the personal feel of the musical.
One of the more interesting ideas within the musical is the manner in which people regard the deceased. Scheuer was on bad terms with his father. When he died, Scheuer had difficulty accepting his positive accolades while knowing there was another side to his father that was not being addressed. His conflicted perception of his father leads to his internal retrospection and attributes to a beautifully frank and emotionally wrenching dialogue.
The Lion is honest and genuine. It expresses life’s highs and lows in an authentic and emotional manner. Scheuer takes the audience along on his coming-of-age journey to discover who he is and how he “[found] his roar.”
“The Lion” opened on Feb. 8 and is playing at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker St. through March 29.
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