Benjamin Scheuer's 'solo musical' is a very moving affair
Benjamin Scheuer plays the guitar like it’s an extension of himself. And that’s particularly apt for this transfer to the intimate St James Studio for his acclaimed off-Broadway show – in which the writer and performer recounts the loves, losses and challenges of his own life through song.
Turning the spotlight on yourself has the potential for perilous self-indulgence. After all, we’ve all had bad break-ups and fractious relationships with our parents. But not all of us also lost our father at the age of 14, moved halfway across the world or were diagnosed with cancer in our twenties.
You’d be forgiven for thinking this sounds heavy going. And the ongoing metaphor of being a cub learning to be a lion that weaves through Scheuer’s set is a little too neat. But under Sean Daniels’s subtle direction, Scheuer’s gentle wryness and clear-sighted lyrics steer clear of schmaltz. The music embraces us instead.
As Scheuer sings, the guitar has been his constant companion since his father made him a cookie-tin banjo as a child (he has his five most important axes on stage with him.) With it, he’s expressed anger and grief, won a girl and clawed his way back from illness. And here, he makes it his second voice.
It’s hard to take your eyes off Scheuer, with his unassuming intensity and messy wave of a quiff, as he makes his guitars whisper, laugh or roar alongside the ebbing roll of his singing. The effect is spellbinding – sad and joyful. It will creep under your skin and bring you near to tears.