Some might be able to recognize what a Froggy Bottom H-12 is, or 1929 Martin, an electric Gibson or a Les Paul. Those just happen to be but a sampling of the guitars Benjamin Scheuer uses in his critically acclaimed musical memoir “The Lion” now playing in The Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre through Oct.30th. He uses 7 different of the stringed instruments to tell his poignant /amusing/ turbulent and gut –wrenching story.
Damned if I would have known any of those names had they not been mentioned in the program. Of course I should because my grandson owns several guitars and at least one of them probably owns a name.
Never heard of him before his performance in The White Theatre. But I know him now, and I say that without bragging. He is one of the most engaging and charismatic entertainers I’ve seen in some time and while I never met him personally, his story and songs resonate enough with me so that if I did meet him in person, I would give him a great big hug just because.
His mastery of the guitar, all seven of them, is awe inspiring and hypnotic and when he punctuates his rage with his electric guitar in "Saint Rick" (He was revered by his colleagues in a book tribute to him after his death) it brings the point home with bravado!
His story follows an arc beginning with his “Cookie Tin Banjo” (the strings are made of rubber bands, the strap is an old red necktie, the body is the big round lid of a cookie tin) and his young years of father /son admiration that slowly disintegrates into confusion and distance when his father crushes one of his toys. What Ben didn’t know was that his father was nearing death after suffering a brain aneurysm. Ben was thirteen. (“Weather The Storm”).
“The Lion” is his personal ode to his family, particularly his father. Some write books, some turn to comedy, some use already written songs and others write original music and lyrics and make them their story. Ben is of the latter merging his autobiography with music and turning it into an 85- minute evening of mesmerizing storytelling, guitar strumming, personal anguish and family pride.
There’s something about father–son relationships that I will never know. My Late husband struggled with that phenomenon. Both he and his Dad died young before there was any resolution. Ben, in this lifetime, has managed through his own difficult times to make peace with both his family and his Dad. “Dear Dad”...I’m sorry about the note I wrote."
Before that all went south his relationship with his musician father (he was actually a mathematician at Harvard and revered by his colleagues “Saint Rick”) he was on top of the world. Ben begins his concert …“My father has an old guitar and he plays me folk songs”. “Dad, teach me how to sing like you.”
He played his Cookie Banjo until he was ready for his first guitar. With the guitar from his father he also got a black pick and showed him the G chord, and he never looked back. His journey is inspiring and the lyrics, rhyming or not, go right to the heart.
“I always show my teeth when I’m smiling, I only say I love you when I’m sure, Inside my gentle paws, I’ve got some devastating claws, and I’m learning what it means to really roar.”
“Though I had to learn once more to be a lion without a roar
It’s not the roar that makes a lion, it’s the pride”
In a 2015 interview with Josh Ferri he answers the question about his ‘killer style’. “What are your three style rules for guys looking to step it up?” “Shine your shoes; wear clothes that fit... get a good tailor…know classic style will always be cool."
Well he got that right. He looks like he stepped out of an Arimas add and his ‘newly disorganized/organized mop of hair (he lost it during chemo therapy during his bout with stage IV lymphoma, at the age of 28, that he sings about in a few of his numbers (“The Cure”), is a now look and indeed cool.
Director Sean Daniels helped put the finishing touches on Scheuer’s piece and “helped me build the best version of the gig I was trying to make”. Neil Patels scenic design that fits perfectly on the round White stage has six stations, if you will with guitar holders, chairs and microphones with all the fixin’s for the electric guitar in the center. Overhead is a circular overhang painted in soft reddish brown tones. Ben Stanton’s indirect lighting is perfect as is Leon Rothenberg’s sound design.
Scherer is a master storyteller and guitar player extraordinaire. I know you will love his lion’s roar. I did.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 30th
Organization: The Old Globe
Production Type: Musical Memoir
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way
Ticket Prices: Start at $29.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Matthew Murphy