By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Songwriter and storyteller Benjamin Scheuer takes a powerful, personal journey of self-exploration in “The Lion” at the City Theatre.
Scheuer tells a story of his life. It’s not an easy tale to tell, and he’s not always the hero. With a guitar on his lap, and a song in his heart, Scheuer tells his story mostly in verse. His narrative goes from incredibly sweet to horrifyingly tragic, peppering the moments between songs with anecdotes of his life. It’s an evocative, truthful tale and it’s not always comfortable. But it’s exceptionally well done.
He begins with an endearing account of his early childhood. His father creates a cookie-tin banjo with a rubber band for a string and an old necktie for a strap. He paints a vivid picture of his early family life with his English mother, two brothers and a mathematician father. The relationship with his father is complex. He tells an unflinchingly truthful chronicle of their difficulties. You can hear the guilt, pain and remorse in his voice when his father passes away at a completely inconvenient moment; right after a family-fracturing argument.
He reports on his love life, his bout with a bone-eating cancer and additional family incidents. He covers an amazing about of territory in the brief seventy-minute show.
At the Saturday late afternoon show, he mastered two impromptu moments. Someone sneezed during a pause as he switched guitars, and he said, “Bless you.” The audience erupted in laughter and he said, “I know you guys are here,” which caused even more uproarious laughter. In a more awkward moment, a cell phone rang, and he politely paused the show until the ringing stopped. It was a gracious and endearing moment void of any ridicule or malice from the performer.
Most of the songs are folksy with an edge, but he rocks out on an electric guitar to a ballad about his dad in “Saint Rick.” Scheuer hits hard with some very emotional moments. It’s hard to keep your eyes dry during the show.
The entire evening is very minimalistic. It’s just Scheuer and his guitars (six in all). Scenic Designer Neil Patel makes the space visually impactful with a shabby chic set, and there is moody lighting from Lighting Designer Ben Stanton.
Director Sean Daniels keeps the show a taut seventy minutes, but you’ll leave feeling intimately connected to Scheuer. We learn a lot about him in his short time on stage.
Bad and possibly overused pun alert:
“The Lion” is a roaring success!
“The Lion” plays through June 5 at The City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.