Arena Stage’s ‘The Lion’: Hear Him Roar

lores_thelion_05Some stories are best sung. From The Lion’s first simple chord in G, award-winning songwriter/performer Benjamin Scheuer captivates with the musical story of a life, from boyhood to manhood, from rock ‘n’ roll to broken chords to acoustic crescendo. With raw wit and emotional depth, Ben leads the audience through love and loss, love and loss again, pain and healing, to ultimate perspicacity.

Unprepared is the best way to experience this coming of age, so my review will avoid spoilers. The cast is Ben and six guitars. Ben is disarming and intimate – think David Sedaris meets the Beatles’ Blackbird. He understatedly thunders from one great upheaval to another, strumming his guitar, sharing joy and agony in plaintive chords that had audience members lores_thelion_03openly weeping. Director Sean Daniels wisely lets Ben share with a minimally choreographed, charged nonchalance. Neil Patel’s simple earth-hued set of mottled paint becomes magical under Ben Stanton’s lighting design, but it is Ben and the six guitars that glow most brightly.

When Ben sings of going “to new cities to discover a past I didn’t know I had,” audiences similarly will feel Ben killing them softly with his song, comprehending his pain through the lens of their own. Ben packs a lot into 70 unguarded minutes. Through unrepentant editing, spare words evoke stark images. As he sings, “to be open is to be scared.” We aren’t watching Ben, we are experiencing his life with him. Evolving from vulnerable and lost to strong and transcendent, we summit with Ben as he lets loose with his triumphant “The Lion,” releasing the roar we lores_illustrationknew was in him.

Audiences should not miss this funny, sad, sweet, and uniquely triumphant story of a life. Go hear The Lion roar – you won’t be sorry.

The Lion is playing at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater from February 26 through April 10, 2016 (1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington DC 20024). Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission. For information or tickets call 202-488-3300 or click here.

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy