Review: ‘The Lion’ at Arena Stage

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Award-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist Benjamin Scheuer electrified Arena Stage’s Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle last night, debuting his one-man musical, The Lion.

Benjamin Scheuer in 'The Lion.' Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Benjamin Scheuer in ‘The Lion.’ Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Affable, handsome and charismatic, Scheuer immediately lights up the stage with his beaming smile and warm energy, sporting a nicely-fitted steel blue suit, crisp white shirt and wavy golden locks.

Directed by Sean Daniels, the staging is strategically sparse, keeping the focus on Scheuer who masterfully plays six different guitars, including a 1929 Martin, an Gibson and a Froggy Bottom H-12. Tracing his quest to better understand the emotional intricacies of his father, Scheuer effectively leads the audience on his heart-felt journey to manhood, sharing the ups and downs of his life through beautifully poignant melodies in an autobiographical 15-song cycle.

Whimsically folksy, each of Scheuer’s songs are skillfully subsumed into a uniquely gripping story peppered with spoken monologues and evocations of multiple characters, re-creating pivotal moments, which chronicle the complexities of his family relationships while highlighting his intense love of music.

For instance, Scheuer sings in the show’s opener:  “My father has an old guitar and he plays me folks songs. There is nothing I want more than to play like him.” Later, he divulges one of his father’s fits of rage: “I ask my friend, ‘What do you do when your dad breaks your toys?” To which Scheuer recounts: “And he looks at me like I’m insane.”

The 70-minute show also reveals other life-changing events, like the first time Scheuer fell in love, as well as his devastating diagnosis of stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Through music, Scheuer narrates his experiences, lyrically expressing his grueling chemotherapy treatments, weight gain, hair loss, and depression, intimately drawing in the audience members with his natural talent to transform his struggles to song.

Charming and disarming, Benjamin Scheuer’s The Lion roars with its refreshing honesty and galvanizing depth.

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Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Lion plays through April 10, 2016 at Arena Stage’s Arlene and Robert Kogod Cradle – 1101 Sixth Street, SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call(202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.