Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Lion ***

Benjamin Scheuer, the talented singer/songwriter who wrote this autobiographical one-man musical at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage II, is a most appealing performer. With his mop of chestnut hair,  open face, charming smile, strong voice and phenomenal guitar technique, he wins the audience over almost instantly. In this cycle of 15 songs lightly interspersed with conversational remarks, he charts the course of his life from the age of 8 when his father built him a toy banjo out of a cookie tin. The lifelong love of music his father instilled has served him well through a series of traumas that include losing his father when he was 14, being uprooted to England for the next four years, finding and losing love upon his return to New York, and suffering a near-fatal illness. How he finally resolved his conflicted feelings about his father and became his own man both personally and musically is a central theme. Neil Patel's simple set with two chairs, a table and seven guitars is sensitively lit by Ben Stanton. Sean Daniels's direction keeps things on an even keel, skillfully avoiding the maudlin or sentimental. The extravagant praise by the critics raised my expectations a little too high, but I nevertheless enjoyed the evening. The enthusiastic audience was much younger than the usual MTC demographic. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission.

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