Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The affable, handsome, and charismatic Benjamin Scheuer casually enters the stage with six different guitars surrounding a couple of chairs. He sits in front of the audience and proceeds to talk about his father and growing up. His father made him a banjo out of rubber bands and the lid of a metal cookie can and would play old folk songs on his guitar as Benjamin would strum the homemade instrument. Benjamin was introduced to some of the music that would go on to influence him, from the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jimi Hendrix to Miles Davis.
When he was almost 14, father and son had a huge fight and Benjamin renounced his dad entirely, calling him "the kind of man that I don't want to be." They did not speak for a week, but the silence echoed long afterwards. Before they could settle their differences, his father died of a brain aneurysm. Later the artist admitted, "as a teenager, I assumed it was me that was stressing him out."
Benjamin talks about his own health crisis at age 33. He wanted to face his demons, so he and his band Escapist Papers ending up making a recording called "The Bridge" filled with his autobiographical folk songs. This record ultimately morphed into "The Lion" which was about his tempestuous association with his father, a breakup with a longtime girlfriend, and serious health issues when he was just 28.
On stage, Scheuer reaches for one of the acoustic guitars arranged in a semi-circle and plays catchy folk-pop and emotional ballads about his heartfelt journey to manhood, sharing the ups and downs of life through strikingly emotional melodies in an autobiographical 15 song cycle.
This artist is not a trained actor but he is an outstanding musician. This all works well, thanks to the precise direction of Sean Daniels, scenic design by Neil Patel of an intimate recording studio, spontaneous lighting by Ben Stanton, and the simple suit with suspenders of costume consultant Jennifer Caprio. The artist's fingers skillfully riff and pluck at the strings of all six guitars to complement folksy ballad lyrics like "Sometimes being brave is being scared," "The song I hear inside my ears," and "Inside my gentle paws I've got some devastating claws."
Benjamin Scheuer's The Lion roars with its stimulating goodness and electrifying depth.
The Lion plays through May 1, 2016, at the American Conservatory Theatre's Strand Theatre. 1127 Market Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available at the A.C.T. Box Office at 415-749-2228 or online at www.act-sf.org. For more information on the tour, visit thelionmusical.com. Coming up next at The Strand Theatre is Joseph Dougherty's Chester Bailey starring David Strathairn and Dan Clegg. It opens on Mary 25 and plays through June 12. Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years opens at A.C.T' s Geary Theatre on May 11th.