Benjamin Scheuer knows a thing or two about captivating folks. Here is how he does it: he tells a story that is laced with resentment, death and disease, and he does it without sentiment. The facts are enough. He leaves the emoting to us. Wise move.
With seven guitars and a few well placed microphones he moves from childhood when his father made a toy guitar out of a cookie tin and magic, to the day when he was given his first real guitar and shown the proper finger placement for a G-chord (he never looked back from that day on) to the moment when he figured out that what made a lion tick was its pride, not its roar.
Scheuer ‘s song writing style is disarming. The songs that are light and breezy might lead you down a path to death, or to a life threatening disease that will make you concerned for his health. It is not that his life is any more remarkable than anyone else’s. It is that he has chronicled it with music that can and does stand on it’s own.
By the time he was 14 his father was descending into a disease never defined. All we know that this man who had degrees from Harvard and Columbia never became the musician that he wanted to be. Resentful? Hard to say. But when Ben asks one of his friends how he handles it when his father breaks his toys and is greeted with incomprehension, we know we are on the trail of some enormous sadness. After his father dies a few weeks after Ben tacked an angry note to the door, his mother moves back to her homeland, England.
Ben would have fared better being fitted for a hair shirt than trying to navigate the British boarding schools system where “maths” were a must that made no sense to him. As soon as he could he made it back to the States to create angry amped music. A love affair cracks him open and leaves him desolate when it ends.
When diagnosed with bone cancer he experiences a reunion with his mother and two brothers that has since never been shaken.
Scheuer plays a mean, seriously mean, guitar and sings with an urgency that belies his age. But he has been through a thing or two in his lifetime and his understanding of the ephemeral nature of our time on this planet is deeper than most.
In the end, without sentiment or complication he brings his tale back to its beginning: his father gave him a gift: music. Because of that gift Scheuer’s life grew exponentially. Because of that gift he has found a way to keep on giving – to anyone who will listen.
BUT PLEASE Mr. Daniels – why have you blocked this show so that Scheuer is trapped into facing front center only with the result that the folks on the side see only his profile, and when he is downstage they mostly see the back of his head? Someone tell Mr. Scheuer it is okay to look around the room. He does it a few times, but this staging is a clunker and works against him. He doesn’t really loosen up until the final few numbers and he can afford to do that from the get go.
Ben – trust yourself and slide around all you like. Folks want to connect with you eye to eye. Just as you do with them.
The Lion – Written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer; directed by Sean Daniels
Sets by Neil Patel; costumes by Jennifer Caprio; lighting by Ben Stanton; sound by Leon Rothenberg; production stage manager, Dan da Silva; general manager, Florie Seery; production managers, Bethany Weinstein and Joshua Helman; artistic line producer, Lisa McNulty; general manager for “The Lion,” Lindsey Sag. Presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer; Mandy Greenfield, artistic producer. At the Studio II, City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org. Through July 13. Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes.