I was in the Berkshires over the July Fourth weekend, and had no intention of seeing any theater. Honestly. But I wound up taking in two shows, one of which was The Servant of Two Masters at Shakespeare & Company, a delightful production of one of my favorite pieces. Catching a show amid the hills and greenery wasn't my idea, I swear, but rather the suggestion of my best friend, whom I was visiting. (I say this just in case you might be thinking that I'm somehow single-mindedly focused on theater at the expense of all other things.)
Well, on Sunday, I was giving a ride to another friend to the train station so that he could go back home to New York City, and as we were approaching the station, I suddenly started thinking that Manhattan was a short train ride away, and that I could park my car, take the train to Grand Central, see a quick Sunday afternoon show, and make it back home to Boston before 9 PM. Now, I ask you...
Plus, a friend on Facebook highly recommended the new one-man musical The Lion, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, and this was literally the only time I would have to see the show before it closes this coming weekend. Turns out, I was very glad I caught the show: Scheuer is not only a terrific songwriter, but also a fantastic guitar player and a very appealing performer as well. (It doesn't hurt that he's absolutely adorable, but, sorry boys, he's straight.) Plus, Scheuer has quite a powerful story to tell in the course of his 70-minute show.
The Lion starts with Scheuer coming on stage, grinning like a Cheshire cat, seemingly amazed that anybody has bothered to show up. He then uses his rather expertly crafted songs and kick-ass guitar skills to relate the story of his complicated relationship with his father, his father's sudden death, his growing love for music, and his own harrowing health struggles. What starts as a simple daddy-gave-me-music story gets more and more layered and moving as events unfold. (Check out this video of the title song and this one of Scheuer in performance)
On paper, the story of The Lion might seem trite, but there's something about Scheuer's songwriting and performance skills that allow the potentially maudlin subject matter to ring fresh. Scheuer wisely takes a self-deprecating tone in his songs and his singing, and within a few minutes of his performance, I was drawn happily into his world. How would he resolve his troubled relationship with his family? Faced with a potentially deadly diagnosis, how would he fare? Of course, we know he survived, since -- duh -- he's telling his own story, but it's a credit to Scheuer's storytelling skills that we somehow doubt the outcome that we know full well to be true.
The Lion plays through Sunday, July 13th at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Studio at Stage II, which is located beneath the New York City Center. That gives you less than a week to catch the show, but I have the feeling we're going to be seeing The Lion in a future incarnation. It's really too good for just a five-week run.