Listening to Benjamin Scheuer strum his acoustic guitar and recount his incredibly stirring life during his one-man show, The Lion, I could think of one word and one word only. Beautiful. The next day when co-workers asked me how my evening play had been, again, that’s all I could stammer. To use anything more bombastic would somehow diminish the strength of a musical performance finely tuned to the heartstrings of life.
In a dapper blue suit with suspenders and a Mohawk-ish pompadour, Scheuer performs sixteen songs in 70 minutes that form, along with snippets of dialogue, a single narrative story. He has a winsome smile and is disarmingly funny, even in the midst of recounting misfortune. He’s described by a past love as being “so serious” and the “loneliest person I know.” Yet, you don’t get the sense that he’s an aloof man cradling an angry kid inside as insinuated. There’s a reason he’s not. Anymore.
But a distressing relationship with his mathematician father, who gives him both the gift of music—folksy, acoustic yarns centered around simple life tenets and love—and self-doubt as a child, set him upon an early path filled with chords of discontent.
After his world is uprooted to his mother’s native England, Scheuer writes a snarky, insulting note on an exam to his British “maths” teacher. And, when he turns 18, he jets back to New York City—abandoning his family in London—and embarks upon a series of electric-guitar-playing years amplified by lingering angst-y teenage anger over his father’s constant disapproval of his non-academic ambitions.
Then, he meets Julia—a freckle-faced girl who loves James Taylor and challenges his notion of pretty much everything. But, he tells us she turns out to be easier than him on the “Lovin’ You Will Be Easy”—a courting song that reminds us relationships start from the best intentions and optimism about each other’s capacity to accept and forgive.
As an adult, all Scheuer’s relationships (with Julia, his brothers, and his parents) hang in the balance, somewhere between nascent and defunct, until Julia strikes out on her own and he faces a health crisis.
The Lion is billed as a musical, but it could be performed just as easily at the Black Cat. At moments Ben’s energy and emotion on stage invoked in me an urge to stand and cheer as if I were at an open air amphitheater. Instead, I stayed seated and, with the rest of the audience, was held hostage by the rapt, awed attention Scheuer’s performance demanded.
“Truth gets revealed by wounds that heal.”
And, from there Scheuer just gains momentum until he sings the titular “The Lion”—a folksy life anthem that, honestly, just rocks. It’s Scheuer’s valediction. A let-go of fear and anger. An acceptance of forgiveness. And, an proclamation of what it means to be a man. To be a part of a family.
It’s followed by a fitting coda, a reprise of the opening song about childhood called “Cookie-tin Banjo” which reminds us that life is often a circular process wherein we reflect again and again so that we can move forward.
For Scheuer, that insight is a gift. And we are just as lucky, having been given a moving, artistic musical performance as beautiful as The Lion. It’s a must see for anyone who believes music and story and art have the power to heal and shape people for the better. Even—especially—amid suffering.
The Lion . Written and Performed by Benjamin Scheuer . Directed by Sean Daniels . Production: Neil Patel (Scenic Designer), Ben Stanton (Lighting Designer), Leon Rothenberg (Sound Designer), Jennifer Caprio (Costume Consultant), Dom Ruggiero (Production Supervisor), Mind the Gap (Technical Supervision), Maximum Entertainment (General Management). Presented by Arena Stage . Reviewed by Kelly McCorkendale.