Now playing at The Old Globe Theatre is the Drama Desk Award-winning musical, “The Lion,” written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, who said he knew he wanted to make music all his life.
“It seemed like the most natural thing in the world for me,” Scheuer said in an interview with La Jolla Light. “My father was the music man. He played the guitar and there was always The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who or Mozart ... and our family went to see the Gilbert and Sullivan shows in New York. I thought music was the most joyful and exciting thing in my life. At one point, I was playing the toy banjo my father built for me when I was two-and-a-half. Although, I couldn’t really see music as a job, I knew I wanted to do it all the time. Now, it’s my living.”
Scheuer has been a writer-in-residence at Goodspeed Musicals, the Weston Playhouse, and Johnny Mercer Songwriting Workshop. He’s been commissioned by Williamstown Theatre Festival and is a recipient of a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Solo Performance.
“I started playing in coffee shops in Greenwich Village in New York,” he explained. “I wrote songs about my family, and I told stories in between songs. I realized I needed to make the material in between as thoughtful and considerate as I did the songs. I wanted to keep people entertained, so I’d rewrite my stories and songs every day after every gig. That’s where ‘The Lion’ came in.
“I was invited to the Goodspeed Theatre and I met (director) Sean Daniels. He was interested in my music. We became good friends and have worked together since. He is my guide, therapist, hiking buddy and coach. I will forever be indebted to the theatrical magician Sean Daniels is.”
Throughout the show, Scheuer plays six different guitars, including a 1929 Martin, a Les Paul, and a Froggy Bottom H-12. One he calls his “understudy,” who only gets played if he breaks a string.
“In 400 performances, I’ve played her twice,” Scheuer said. “The other six are all tuned to different chords. On the Froggy Bottom I play ‘Cookie Tin Banjo,’ about the guitar my dad made for me when I was young; I play the title track, ‘The Lion,’ and I use it to play a song that is a letter to my father, called, ‘Dear Dad.’ ”
In addition to being a musical, Scheuer said the show is a family story about his father.
“We got along well playing music,” he said. “However, he was very academic and I was not. When I was 13, we had a fight. Soon after he died of a brain injury. I always felt I was responsible for his death. But during my ‘treatment’ and ‘cure’ from cancer, I learned to become myself, forgive myself and forgive my father. In essence, the show is about family and how the power of music connects us.”
Scheuer said he made four music animated videos independently for the show (available on his website benjaminscheuer.com) — “Weather the Storm,” “The Lion,” “Cookie Tin Banjo” and “Cure.” His album, “Songs from The Lion,” has won prizes at the Annecy Film Festival, British Animation Awards, and Encounters Film Festival. Another animated video, “Golden Castle Town,” will be released in October.
He said he was very excited when “Cure” premiered on a New York Times health site. “I think that blew open the doors for musical theater getting songs on the radio and film festivals to audiences that otherwise would not think of this as musical theater,” Scheuer said. “So I’m completely interested in changing the way the genre is presented.”
In press material advancing the show, Globe Artistic Director Barry Edelstein writes, “I first saw ‘The Lion’ two years ago, and it knocked me out. Ben Scheuer is one of the most winning, charismatic performers I’ve seen. He can do it all: a wizardly guitarist and brilliant singer-songwriter, he’s put together a theatrical memoir that is unique, moving, and hugely uplifting. He’s performed the play in many cities since its acclaimed New York run, and Ben has won hearts everywhere he’s gone. I’m so happy to share this special and unforgettable show with San Diego.”
IF YOU GO: “The Lion” runs through Oct. 30 at The Old Globe Theatre’s Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $29. (619) 234-5623. theoldglobe.org