To paraphrase the words of Benjamin Scheuer, writer and star of the one-person musical production The Lion, he asks,
Where do we turn when we’re dealt a bad hand,
When we’re beaten and battered and worn?
How do we cope, when it appears there’s no hope?
How do we weather the storm?
[Based on the theme from B. Scheuer’s Weather the Storm]
Scheuer, a singer-songwriter and guitarist par excellence tells his stormy autobiographical story through songs – from his introduction to music, his estranged relationship with his father, a failed love affair and some significant personal struggles.
Throughout his no-holds-barred, honest and self-aware account we journey with him as life throws its best left hook-right jab-left haymaker combination that leave Scheuer dazed and confused as the referee begins the countdown. Somehow he finds the strength to pick himself up, shake off adversity, come to terms with his own shortcomings and missteps, and continue to battle. Every chapter an opportunity for self-reflection and growth, he eventually develops a strategy that takes him beyond survival on the road to fulfillment.
His story begins with the birth of his musical self, when at 10 years old, his dad makes him a toy banjo out of a round cookie tin, rubber bands, and an old necktie. Ben’s father was a successful attorney and businessman but was also a very talented musician. He would often play and sing to his children, sometimes making up songs as he went. Ben was mesmerized and it awoke in him a lifelong love of music that would eventually become his salvation as well as his livelihood. For this he is forever indebted to his dad:
Somewhere buried in a closet is my cookie tin banjo,
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,
That started with a simple homemade toy
[B. Scheuer from Cookie Tin Banjo]
But the next few songs paint a different, more complicated picture of his dad and their relationship, one that reveals a man with flaws and a temper that often found him as its target. Ben later learns that his father had suffered from depression, which in retrospect provides a context for his behavior. As a typical self-involved teenager, the battle lines are drawn and rebellion ensues. His mom is defensive and provides no support and things quickly spiral downhill. In the midst of this battle his father is hospitalized and dies suddenly of a brain aneurism at the age of 48. With no chance for reconciliation Ben carries a huge burden of guilt throughout his adolescence and beyond.
Losing his dad at such an early age put additional pressures on Ben as he felt the need to provide emotional support for his younger brothers and his mom. This too, was a learning experience:
To protect them from the storm,
Keep them safe and keep them warm,
Music was the fire that I shared,
It taught when in fear
To be open and sincere
Because sometimes being brave is being scared
[B. Scheuer from The Lion]
Ben goes on to pursue a music career. He achieves some modest success but loses touch with his mom and brothers, has a difficult relationship with a women he falls for, and his troubles continue until just when you think he’s hit rock bottom, he receives unthinkably devastating news. No need to provide those details here – I’ve revealed quite a bit already. Suffice to say it’s a long hard road and Ben takes us along on each step of his journey.
Ben Scheuer’s story is a challenge to absorb through a 70 min. (no intermission) musical. But The Lion is compelling and riveting throughout and there are plenty of lighter moments where his droll sense of humor provides just the right amount of levity. What makes it work so effectively however, is Ben’s songwriting talents, both musically and lyrically, as well as his kick-ass guitar work. Hard to imagine how he can perform with such intensity day in and day out (two shows on Saturday) as it must be emotionally and physically draining. Be prepared for a toe tapping roller coaster ride that is powerful, moving, funny, and above all brutally honest.
Scheuer and his band Escapist Papers collaborated on an award-winning short video based on his song, The Lion. Click below to watch this video but be aware it contains spoilers if you plan to catch the show. Compositor: Russell Etheridge Animators: Peter Baynton, Laura Nailor, and Tim McCourt