A Sneak Peek of The Lion

By Shannon Stockwell

Above all else, singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer loves a good story. But despite his own folk-bluegrass acoustic style, one of his favorite genres of music is hip-hop. “It’s the most advanced kind of lyricism. These guys and girls are doing things that I aspire to do. I would love to tell these dense and complex stories.” In The Lion, Scheuer’s moving, intricate one-man musical, his aspiration is reality.

Benjamin Scheuer in The Lion. Photo by Matthew Murphy. 

Scheuer is a master storyteller with a sharp understanding of the structure of musical theater. Traditionally, every musical starts with a song that sets the scene, and the second song lets us know what the main character wants. Scheuer pointed out that the first lines of the first song in The Lion do that perfectly: “My father has an old guitar and he plays me folk songs / There is nothing I want more than to play like him.” “I don’t like to waste words,” Scheuer said. “Everybody’s time is valuable, you know?”

He also understands storytelling in a technical way. A graduate of Harvard University, Scheuer spent much of his college career studying the intricacies of the classical three-act structure. “I try to incorporate that three-act structure that I’ve learned by studying theater and literature into every single song,” Scheuer said in a talk with Google. “Into each song.”

The arc of the show is built upon the Hero’s Journey, a theory of storytelling codified by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. “Structurally, I really try to be very technical,” said Scheuer. “Because the closer I stay to the technical structuralism, the farther I can go in telling my version of that.”

The Hero’s Journey, the three-act dramatic structure, and traditional musical theater—the fact these theories exist is a sign that the vast array of stories we tell are essentially the same tale. For Scheuer, the interconnectedness of stories became abundantly clear in the audience response to The Lion. “The best compliment I can get is when somebody says, ‘Hey, man, you know, your story is just like my story,’ and then they tell me this story that has nothing to do with my story,” said Scheuer. “You know, ‘My mother moved to Tennessee with my dad’s canoe and my dad and I used to canoe together.’ And I couldn’t work out why this was happening, [but] I think I have an answer. It’s not that the stuff that happens to us is the same. It’s that we pretty much feel the same way about the stuff that does happen to us. We feel alone. We feel lost. We feel loved. We feel understood by other people, by ourselves. That’s all.”

The Lion opens April 19 at A.C.T.'s Strand Theater. Get your tickets here!

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