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The Lion: Theater review by David Cote
If I had to name an animal that captures singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s vibe, the title cat would not spring to mind. Maybe a puppy. Scheuer has a gentle, dreamy wistfulness swimming in his baby blues. And his is not a blood-chilling roar, but a mellow birdsong that lifts the spirit. Of course, the feline he sings about in The Lion symbolizes inner ferocity. And the charming young performer has an abundance of that.
The yarn he spins in 70 minutes with seven (mostly acoustic) guitars is one of filial resentment, death and disease. His brilliant but quick-tempered mathematician father died when Scheuer was a teen. His British mother relocated the family to England, which brought out the resentful rebel. Returning to New York, our troubadour became a rocker, but his life was upended at age 28 by a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Told simply in first person with no attempt to impersonate other characters, the memoir unfolds through folk-style melodies and graceful, earnest lyrics.
Although The Lion is a sweet, handmade musical with a warm, relatable center, it feels too self-reverential, and could lose a couple songs or gain more detail and specificity in the interstitial patter. Director Sean Daniels might have helped Scheuer find different ways to move or position his body. It may seem vulgar to give show-doctor tips on such highly personal material, but if you wander into the jungle, expect rough company.—David Cote
The Lion (see Off Broadway). Written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer. Directed by Sean Daniels. Running time: 1hr 10mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote