Review: 'The Lion' at the Long Wharf Theater

Tara Kennedy

In an age where elaborate sets rule Broadway and production costs can go through the roof, it is a breath of fresh air to experience a show like The Lion. After all, what is theater at its very core? It’s telling a story. Ben Scheuer takes us through his very personal and intimate story with only his voice and six guitars, with a minimal scene design by Neil Patel and Tony-nominated lighting designer (for his work in Fun Home), Ben Stanton.

The show beginswith Mr. Scheuer coming out on stage and playing his first song immediately. He sings about how his father introduced him to music by making a cookie tin banjo for him and gave him his first chord: the G chord. It is an almost hesitant beginning with quiet smiles to the audience. But as the show continues, he opens up, loosens up, and lets the audience into his life for the last two decades.As he progresses through his story, he removes his coat, loosens his tie – as he becomes more comfortable with us, he becomes more open and expressive.

He speaks some in between songs, but the format is primarily a song cycle. His story is about growing up in New York and London, coming to terms with life and death, math(s) and music, and love and loss. One of the poignant moments was how the story cycles back to the toy cookie tin banjo and his father introducing him to the G chord. His perspective toward this father’s lessons have a whole new meaning as he comes back to the beginning:  find your own voice, your own roar: be your own lion.

Mr. Scheuer’s lyrics could be mantras: every heart is made stronger by scars; being brave is being scared. His music ranges from rocking electric (during his angsty teenage years) to quiet acoustic (during more emotionally vulnerable moments). His feelings are evident and contagious. We feel what he feels as he sings his heart, his experiences, and his life.

It is seventy minutes of expert storytelling with humor and depth, and as my husband and I left the theater, we wondered: what happens next? How will he respond to future adversities? How will his story evolve and grow from here? Most importantly, when will he come back to tell us what happened? It’s a credit to Scheuer that we care enough about him to want to know where his life will go next. Let’s hope that there’s a sequel to The Lion so we find out what happens next.