BWW Review: THE LION Finds His Voice in His Father's Song
Performances and Tickets:
Through September 20 at Merrimack Repertory Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack Street, Lowell, MA; Milwaukee, WI September 30-November 8; Rochester, NY November 11-22; New Haven, CT January 6-February 7; Washington, DC February 26-April 10; Pittsburgh, PA May 12-June 5; tickets and information available online at www.TheLionMusical.com
One man, two chairs, six guitars and 15 songs mark the road from loss to redemption for singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer in his haunting autobiographical solo musical THE LION launching its national tour at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. With nothing more than his soulful voice and expressive guitar playing, Scheuer performs the songs that only he could write, taking his audience on an emotional journey through his happy childhood, turbulent adolescence, troubled young adulthood and, finally, the fulfillment he enjoys today.
THE LION won unanimous praise and multiple awards in its Edinburgh, London and Off-Broadway runs. It's easy to see - and hear - why. Not only is Scheuer a master singer-songwriter with charm and wit to spare. He is also an accomplished actor and storyteller who makes his profoundly personal experiences resonate with universal truths.
Scheuer begins his tale simply and innocently, sharing fond memories of how his mathematician father would teach his brothers and him life lessons through inspirational fable-like folk songs. As the story unfolds, however, we learn that teenaged Ben comes to loggerheads with his father over his schoolwork and his music and, tragically, before they can make amends, Dad dies. This sets Ben into an emotional tailspin that leads to self-recrimination, an ill-fated romance, and a life-threatening illness of his own. Over the course of the next 80 uninterrupted minutes, Scheuer bares his truth and his soul by expressing his joy, anger, grief, fear, resignation and, ultimately, rebirth and renewal through the communal experience of singing songs.
Scheuer's admiration for his father is evident when he sings of the "Cookie-tin Banjo" his Dad made for him when he was little and while singing "When We Get Big" as he accompanies himself on his first real junior guitar. His reminiscences are filled with both love and longing during "Three Little Cubs" and "Weather the Storm," and his ability to make lighthearted fun of himself comes through in the ironic little "Laugh." With these three songs Scheuer actually conjures his departed Dad, not only by seating himself on a 1950s-style upholstered wing-back chair but also by playing an instrument he has named "Dad's Old Guitar," a 1929 Martin O-18 that stands in for his father's actual 1957 Martin OO-21. It is eerie to see two men become one, but the effect beautifully captures the inextricable bond that music has forged between father and son.
Even when Ben rails against his father's death, eschewing the acoustic folk music genre he grew up with for the electric guitar-fueled rage and rebellion of hard-edged rock 'n' roll, he still can't shake his father's ghost. In trying to find his own voice, he keeps coming back to the question his father used to pose in song: "What makes a lion a lion? What does it mean to really roar?"
Only after Ben comes face to face with his own mortality - enduring a terrifying cancer diagnosis and surviving excruciating treatments - do the lessons his father tried to impart to him in his youth become clear. He has weathered the storm, he has found his roar, he does know what it means to be a lion, and his father's legacy does live on in his own special brand of contemporary folk music.
As Scheuer sings with joyful exhilaration in his final reprise of the title song, THE LION most definitely does have devastating claws inside its gentle paws. Ben's father would no doubt be proud.
(THE LION ends its run at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Mass. on September 20. For upcoming dates and cities on the national tour, please visit www.TheLionMusical.com)
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MERRIMACK REPERTORY THEATRE: BENJAMIN SCHEUER AS BEN