Review: ‘The Lion,’ starring Benjamin Scheuer, at A.C.T./Strand (***)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ***
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Benjamin Scheuer in The Lion playing at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater April 19-May 1, 2016. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Benjamin Scheuer is The Lion. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy.
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

 
Benjamin Scheuer is a talented and charismatic singer/song writer with a powerful story to tell. Benjamin is one of several siblings from a privileged family, whose father was a well loved professional mathematician and gifted amateur musician who suffered from untreated depression, often taking out his anger and frustration at home. Benjamin tells of an occasion when his father inexplicably burst upon him and a backyard playmate to grab, stomp upon and destroy the toy guns with which they were playing. Benjamin asked his playmate, “What do YOU do when your father stomps on your toys?” and recalls being staring at him in puzzled disbelief.

But this was the same father who gave his child the gift of music with a toy banjo, and later, taught him to play the guitar.

The story deepens when his father dies when Benjamin is only thirteen years old, and deepens further when, as a young adult, Benjamin himself is diagnosed with lymphoma and has to confront his own mortality. (Scheuer has since been successfully cured.)

This dramatic coming-of-age story, with its themes of family, mortality, love, and loss is the subject of a cycle of original songs which performed with minimal narration.

Scheuer is an excellent musician, able to shred with an electric guitar or coax gentle and virtuosic folk riffs from an acoustic. His songwriting is polished and assured and his story telling emotionally lively.

“The Lion,” in short, is a wonderful musical and theatrical experience, and well deserves its success.

Still, for this reviewer, the best moments were the most vulnerable, when Scheuer seemed to momentarily forget the story and the script, and just engaged directly with the audience. I was left thinking I would prefer to see this gifted performer in a more straightforward concert format, without the theatrics.

But that is merely a quibble. “The Lion” is an excellent evening of good music making, the story is moving, and Benjamin Scheuer is great company.

“The Lion” continues through May 1st at A.C.T./Strand Theatre. For further information, click here.

IF YOU ENJOY READING THEATRESTORM, PLEASE CLICK HERE TO EXPRESS YOUR APPRECIATION.

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“The Lion,” written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer. Produced by A.C.T. Director: Sean Daniels. Lighting Designer: Ben Stanton. Sound Designer: Leon Rothenberg.

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