Benjamin Scheuer’s father loved to sing and play folk songs on an old guitar. Seeing that his young son wanted to play, too, he went into the basement and built Benjamin a banjo out of the top of a cookie tin, some rubber bands, and an old necktie. We learn all of this in the first song Benjamin sings titled, of course, “Cookie-tin Banjo.” Based upon this sweet opening and also Benjamin’s boyish good looks and enthusiasm as he bounds onto the stage at Arena’s Kogood Cradle, we settle in for what we believe will be engaging stories and songs about his life, his love for music, and his special relationship with his father. We are soon, however, jolted out of that safe place and find ourselves following Benjamin on the harrowing journey of his life.
Benjamin’s father was a brilliant man; he earned an economics degree from Harvard and a law degree from Columbia. Despite those accomplishments, the brief glimpse we have of him in Benjamin’s songs reveals an angry man filled with regrets. He suffered from depression most of his life, yet even that illness cannot excuse the cruelties meted out from father to son. (There were three boys in the family, but Benjamin was usually the target for his father’s anger.) At age 14, a C-minus in math triggers a tirade and Benjamin is barred from attending a band trip. After Benjamin tapes a note to his parents’ door saying he no longer wants to be like his father, a silence sets in between the two. Before a reconciliation can occur, the father dies and Benjamin is left with unfinished business and many questions.
While there are many sad moments in this musical evening, the overall tone is one of redemption, survival, and, ultimately, forgiveness. Benjamin’s father wasn’t the man his son hoped or wanted him to be, but the father did succeed in handing down to his son a love of music, specifically the love for playing the guitar.
There are seven guitars on stage, all acoustic except for one electric, and Benjamin makes good use of them throughout the show, at times attacking the instrument ferociously, at other times strumming with a gentle rhythm. While his lyrics are autobiographical, moving his story forward, the words seemed to resonate with many members of the audience. Relationships between fathers and sons (and mothers are daughters) are often volatile, and Benjamin’s story, while personal, is, in many ways, universal. (The young woman next to me couldn’t stop sobbing.)
Much is revealed in the title song, “The Lion,” about Benjamin’s family and his efforts to take care of his mother and brothers, “to lead our little pride,” as he sings after the death of his father. Still, Benjamin had to walk a long journey through many jungles allowing, at times, others to take care of him, before he finally “found his roar.”
The Lion, an exceptional evening of musical theater, will be on a national tour throughout 2016. Go to Benjamin’s website for locations and dates.
Photo by Matthew Murphy
Through April 10, 2016
1101 Sixth Street SW