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A CurtainUp Review
The Lion

This winning musical solo is roaring back into town for a limited run. Obviously the cast is the same. And so is the story, which knocked my reservations about the tendency to be underwhelmed by solo shows. I was both moved and entertained by Benjamin Scheuer's musical biography as fluidly directed by Sean Daniels. And so, now that those who missed the show's previous incarnation have another chance to see The Lion, my previous review is reprinted below.

The Venue: Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project 45 Bleecker Street.
Performancedates: From 2/03/15; opening 2/08/15; closing 3/29/15.
Performance schedule: Wednesdays at 7:30 PM, Thursdays at 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 5 PM & 8 PM, Sunday at 3 PM.
Tickets are $26 to $75.
In My Arms Is My Guitar, My Greatest Source Of Joy
For The Life That I Have Now, I'm Grateful To My Father
Who Gave The Gift Of Music To His Boy
It Started With A Simple Home-made Toy

— From "Cookie-tin Banjo"
Benjamin Scheuer (Photo: Matthew Murphy)
For a high school drama teacher, the perfect play or musical calls for a large cast so that as many students as possible have a chance to be on stage. But for the bottom line conscious professional theater producer. a show featuring just one actor can be a bonanza. Though one-person plays dominate the burgeoning solosphere, the solo musical is likely to gain ground courtesy of singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer's musical memoir, The Lion.

An enjoyable example of this genre-within-a-genre was Sheree Rene Scott's semi-fictional Everyday Rapture -2010 which featured three backup singers and sandwiched in a "mystery" guest. Scheuer's The Lion is a more straightforward biography that initially seems more suitable for a concert or cabaret venue than a theater. But surprise, surprise! It has remarkably sturdy stage legs. Scheuer pulls you in with his charm and musicality and the unpretentious, opennness that imbues his story with humor, sadness and uplift, without allowing the get-out-your-tissue part turn it into a solo-soapsical.

The show which has had various permutations, including a run at last year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is made stage worthy by Neil Patel's unostentatious set and Ben Stanton's mood supporting lighting. The seven guitars that dominate the stage aren't just props. All are played by Scheuer with fine interpretive shadings to represent different aspects of his life — beginning with his introduction to music via a toy guitar ("Cookie-tin Banjo") made for him by his father, to learning to let go of the anger and guilt in the aftermath of that difficult man's death.

The conversational style of more than a dozen theme building songs blends comfortably with the spoken narration of what's essentially coming of age story. The "Cookie-tin Banjo" bookends Scheuer's journey to an understanding of how his father, mother, brothers, girlfriend and serious illness have affected him as a man and a musician. It's a journey that takes us to his early New York City life, the move back to his mother's native England after the father's death, a return to his beloved New York (his "Golden Castle Town"), and the good-bad-good experiences that follow.

The predominantly folk music inflected songs escalate from laid back troubador style to more rousing emotionalism and, when he picks up the electric guitar, some hot rock 'n'roll. Given their close link to the narrative the individual numbers' life is most promising within the show's overall context. But Scheuer is a gifted and insightful lyricist so some do pass the standalone test, notably the ones about his love affair — "Loving You Will Be Easy" I'll Bet Loving You Will Be Easy/no Matter How Difficult You Try To Be" and "Laugh" ("You Make Me Laugh When You Stretch Your Stretchy/Pants Up To Your Neck And Dance Around/ You Make Me Laugh With Your Impression Of A Friendly/Pterydacyls Mating Sound'/"You Make Me Laugh Till I’m Breathless). There's also the potent title song in which Scheuer likens his slowly and painfully acquired wisdom to a the king of the jungle's "finding his roar."

While director Sean Daniels deftly keeps Scheuer moving around the stage, he fails to take the three-sided thrust of this theater into consideration. Except for a very occasional glance at one of the theater's side section and his final bow, the people in the side seats see Scheuer mostly in profile. Substituting a swivel chair for the one from which many of the songs are delivered might have been a simple solution. I wouldn't want The Lion to bring forth a whole pride of lion-sized solo talents to add lots of one-person musicals to the already much done solo play genre. However, this is a winning little show. Judging from the enthusiastic roar from the audience at the performance I attended The Lion hits home with the young as well as the young in heart.

The Lion
Solo musical written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer
Directed by Sean Daniels
Scenic design: Neil Patel
Costume Consultant: Jennifer Caprio
Lighting: Ben Stanton
Sound: Leon Rothenberg
Stage Manager: Dan Da Silva
Running time: 70 Minutes
The Studio at Stage II of Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series at New York City Center Stage II 131 West 55th Street
From 6/10/14; opening 6/26/14; closing 7/13/14.
Tickets, $30.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at June 22nd press preview
Song List: 1. Cookie-tin Banjo, 2. When We Get Big, 3. Three Little Cubs, 4. Weather The Storm, 5. White Underwear, 6. Saint Rick, 7. Lovin' You Will Be Easy, 8. Laugh, 9. The Bridge, 10. A Surprising Phone-call, 11. Invisible Cities, 12. I Will Never Leave, 13. Golden Castle Town, 14. Dear Dad, 15. The Lion, 16. Cookie-tin Banjo reprise
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