Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

The Lion
Long Wharf Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's reviews of Buyer & Cellar and The Body of an American


Benjamin Scheuer
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Benjamin Scheuer's The Lion, at Long Wharf Theatre through February 7th, is a revealing, tuneful musical memoir which exquisite guitarist Scheuer has written and is now performing in a national tour. It is a coming of age story and the high drama details Scheuer's relationship with his father Rick, who fashioned for him (when Ben was a boy), a homemade banjo. It was made out of a cookie tin and rubber bands. A necktie (and the performer wears one for a while on stage) evidently held that instrument together.

That moment was a beginning and is pivotal as Ben's life as a musician began. The singer begins to tell the tale of his dad's old guitar and passing down folk songs. The bond between father and son was a rich one yet the older man's explosive temper was problematic. A tragic event leaves Ben, his mother, and two brothers reeling. One of his songs, "Dear Dad," is plaintive.

The Lion, on one level, focuses upon the maturation from Scheuer's cub status to fully achieved growth. Along the way, the artist (and all of this is truth) meets a health crisis. Fully recovered, handsome and sandy-haired, he is imposing, warm, spirited, and comfortable on stage. He is able to sing with love, regret, and hope about his evolution as a human being. At the outset, Ben wears a suit, and only his tie is a bit loosened. By the time he concludes with a rousing finale and even more robust encore, he has rolled up his sleeves, shed his jacket and shoes.

Neil Patel's set has a coffeehouse feel to it. There are half a dozen guitars positioned on the stage. Sean Daniels directs and, one imagines, has coaxed Scheuer to move from chair to chair on stage and project to each one of the onlookers. He ruminates about Julia, his girlfriend (whom he met at Grand Central Station), her odyssey, and the loss of that relationship. Again, this is autobiographical and could not be more personal. The 75-minute piece is structured with a specific beginning, middle component, climactic incident, and full circle concluding tunes. The boy began with a G chord and developed guitarist expertise that Leo Kottke could admire. He sings sweetly (does anyone remember Patrick Sky back in the 1960s folk era?) yet with a touch of gravel to the vocals, too. He moves from acoustic instruments to blaring electric guitars.

In all, this is narration through song, an intimate look at three decades of life from a man who is sharing reflections and emotions. When one looks at Ben Scheuer, the faces of both a boy and a young man seem to blend. He makes it all accessible, the childhood with the rudimentary instrument and first guitar, personal hardships, and the path toward meaningful existence as an adult. That his father did not acquiesce to Ben's request to teach him how to play like he did is, perhaps, a good thing. It has enabled the son to become his own singer-songwriter, a distinctive presence.

At the very end of a recent weekday matinee, with an audience of, it appeared, a few busloads of teenagers and also many older citizens, Benjamin Scheuer shouted, at the very end, "You're wonderful." A couple of theatergoers tossed it right back with, "So are you." This might occur at many a performance. If so, the exchange is still genuine. The Lion wins favor with the performer's first words and he is a person who brings a combination of spark and charm. One might recognize the primary theme and even find this somewhat familiar. That does not mitigate the show's charismatic appeal.

The Lion continues at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, through February 7th, 2016. For tickets, call (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.


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