Seven guitars, three microphones, two chairs, one man, and one hell of a story.
Even if you think you’ve seen enough one man shows to last a lifetime, make room for one more. The Lion, playing at Arena Stage through April 10, is beautiful in its simplicity. It somehow pulls off the trick of being both deeply moving and often funny. And then there’s the music.
Benjamin Scheuer walks through a door and into an intimate setting, taking a seat and settling in. You couldn’t possibly have a more low-key entrance, and yet Scheuer has the immediate and rapt attention of the audience. He’s about to take them on a 70 minute journey through his own life—it’s a great story, but it wouldn’t be nearly as interesting without Scheuer’s comfortable, familiar vibe. He sings original songs, using his various guitars the way an actor might use costumes or set changes—each representing a different episode in the story of his life, each with a distinct tone and look.
Scheuer starts at the beginning-his relationship with his father is strained, yet his connection to his father through music is undeniable. As the boy becomes a man, there are more than the average number of life-altering events in his path. Each recounted with transitions into and back out of song so smooth, you hardly realize they’ve occurred.
Scheuer’s style is charming, understated, and naturalistic. He doesn’t come across as a “Showman’, but rather as a sensitive and earnest son, brother and boyfriend. As a guitarist, here too, he is understated. Not fussy or showy, though guitarists in the audience will appreciate his finger picking style and warm tone that is reminiscent of the great Tommy Emmanuel. It’d be a shock if Scheuer didn’t count that Australian picker as an influence. As a singer, his voice is casual, certainly not “theatrical,” but more like a friend in your living room who’s performing without being “on.”
And here one should abruptly stop revealing any further details. The twists and turns are surprising, heartbreaking and, ultimately, uplifting. Nearing the end, the playing becomes louder, more fierce, something like a (mostly gentle) Lion’s roar. It’s been a multi-faceted, fully engaging experience.
Surely people have often told Scheuer that his life story would make a great book, and it certainly would. But it couldn’t be any better than actually spending time with the storyteller himself.
‘The Lion’ continues at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater through April 10th. For more information, show times and tickets, please visit: http://www.arenastage.org/