note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
. During a post-show one-on-one chat at Lowell’s Nancy L. Donahue Theatre on Sunday afternoon, 33-year-old writer-composer-performer-multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Scheuer said memory is selective. Perhaps today, we would look differently at incidents we remember at certain stages of our lives, but in his one-man, one-act musical autobiographical play, “The Lion,” his story about his childhood and adulthood relates how he was impacted along the way. Some of his songs spring from his album, “The Bridge,” which he’d recorded with his band, Escapist Papers.
Throughout Scheuer’s life, he strikes chords with theatergoers. Performing on designer Neil Patel’s finely decorated set, with only two chairs and six guitars carefully located, the trim Scheuer, dressed in a blue suit, white shirt and tie, is greeted enthusiastically by applause as he enters the stage.
Throughout his non-stop musical narrative journey, enhanced by Ben Stanton’s dramatic lighting and Tony Award-winning Sound Designer Leon Rothenberg’s touches, Sunday’s audience was rapt - and charmed - by Scheuer’s boyish good looks, infectious smile, amazing musical ability, and buoyant optimism.
Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) new artistic director/director Sean Daniels takes pride in bringing Scheuer and his compelling play to Lowell. During a 2013 writers’ retreat in Connecticut, Daniels met and worked with Scheuer to form the play, which he directs here. Their result is captivating and rewarding. Although “The Lion” has appeared in some American theaters, Edinburgh and London, Scheuer is launching a two-year national tour in Lowell.
“The Lion” has already gained critics‘ praise, hailing it as a masterpiece and must-see show. Scheuer also won London’s Offie Award for Best New Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance, a Theatre World Award for Outstanding Debut Performance in New York and others. Critics hail it as a masterpiece, a must-see show.
Scheuer is a marvelous storyteller, whose original words and music generate his emotions, age level and reactions. There are no dramatic pauses to punctuate his sadness, loss or fear. He races through his childhood, playing music with his dad, a brilliant mathematician and academician. who sang and played acoustic guitar, and made little Ben a toy banjo to strum along with him. However, to his dad’s chagrin, Benjamin wasn’t a good math student.
Ben relates his dad’s sudden outbursts with him, and his retorting teen-age anger, which deeply affected him afterward, especially when his father was struck ill with a blinding headache, and died later, while Benjamin was on a school band trip to Washington, DC.
In a plaintive song, he sings how he feels inadequate taking over the role of caretaker for his younger brothers, Simon and Adam. His angst increases after his British-born mother Sylvia moves the family to her native London and enrolls Ben in an all-boys’ boarding school, where he faces more conflict.
Ben trades his acoustic guitar for an electric one, to express his frustration and anger in song, finding success in that genre. In New York City, he meets the love of his life, the multi-freckled Julia, whom his mother Sylvia, Simon and Adam don’t like.
As Julia and Ben’s romance waxes and wanes, she decides to take a one-year worldwide trip “to find herself”. Ben suffers a fall, breaks a few bones, struggles with night sweats and pain. In 2011, he’s diagnosed and undergoes grueling treatment for Stage-IV Hodgkins Lymphoma, losing his marvelous mane of hair (which is gloriously restored) and 25 pounds off his trim frame, but regains 30 pounds back the wrong way - through steroid treatment. His relationship with his mother and brothers also undergoes revelatory changes, resulting in Scheuer’s remarkable self-discovery and increased insight into his father and family, provocatively resonating with theatergoers.
He opens with theme song, “The Lion,” in which Benjamin asks his dad to teach him to play guitar like him. The song takes a different slant at the end- a wondrous change that influences not only Scheuer’s life, but mirrors ours.
BOXINFO: One-act, solo. 70-minute, award-winning musical, written, performed by Benjamin Scheuer. with Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT), through Sept. 20, at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, 50 E. Merrimack St., Lowell. Check for related events. Tickets, $23-$60; senior, student, group, military discounts. For performance schedule, tickets and more information, visit www.mrt.org or call 978-654-4678.Group tickets for six or more, call 978-654-7561