One man, six guitars, fifteen songs, and Benjamin Scheuer’s extraordinary true-life tale add up to twenty-two reasons not to miss the Geffen Playhouse L.A. Premiere of the award-winning international sensation The Lion.
You’d hardly guess from listening to show-opening “Cookie-Tin Banjo” that Scheuer’s affectionately recalled dad, the guitar-loving mathematician who confectioned his young son a musical instrument with rubber-band strings, was anything but “lovely man” his friends recall as “Saint Rick.”
You’d hardly guess from the New York subway meet-cute that introduces the then 20something Ben to Julia that loving her will be anything but easy “no matter how difficult you try to be.”
You’d hardly guess from looking at Scheuer that the boy-next-door-handsome hunk radiating health and vigor on the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater stage was ever sick a day in his life.
He was … and has lived to tell … and entertain … and inspire in a one-man-show that not only defies dime-a-dozen solo-performance clichés but has won Scheuer the 2014 Off West End Award for Best Musical, the 2015 Drama Desk Award, and more.
Scheuer’s melodies are as catchy as tunes get, his lyrics alternately clever (imagining a Scheuer family band, he casts “mom as Linda [McCartney], which is good, cause when we play, she doesn’t know what’s going on”) and poignant (upon the loss of a prized gift his father gave him, “I’d like to try to build a bridge before you fully disappear”) and inspiring (“Inside my gentle paws, I’ve got some devastating claws, and I’m learning what it means to really roar”).
Even without the narrated memories that bind them together, The Lion’s fifteen songs would make for one terrific pop album, and indeed “Songs From The Lion” is available for purchase after the show (and well worth the fifteen bucks).
Together, Scheuer’s words and music, vibrant vocals, and acoustic guitar artistry (plus a song’s worth of electric zap) add up to an absolutely spellbinding sixty-five minutes.
Director Sean Daniels makes imaginative use of the intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater stage, dramatic shadows cast by Ben Stanton’s stunning lighting design adding to the impact.
Neil Patel’s simple but elegant scenic design is a winner too, as is Leon Rothenberg’s pitch-perfect sound design, though ticket buyers should be encouraged to avoid seats in the unraked second, third, and fourth rows that may have them craning for glimpses of the mostly seated Scheuer.
Jennifer Caprio is costume consultant. Dom Ruggiero is production supervisor, with technical supervision by Mind The Gap.
Whether you call it a musical, a solo performance with music, a narrated song cycle, or (perhaps most aptly) a genre entirely its own, Benjamin Scheuer’s The Lion will put a smile on your face and a song in your heart, that is when you’re not tearing up, humming along inside your head, or falling a little bit in love with its creator. It is the year’s first must-see production.
Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles.
January 7, 2017
Photos: Matthew Murphy