PCS Blog

The Puddle-Jumping, Sky Rocketing Path of “The Lion”

Posted by Claudie Fisher | 09 April 2015

Benjamin Scheuer’s idea for the The Lion initially began with songs from the album The Bridge he’d written with his band, Escapist Papers. In January 2012, Scheuer began performing these songs in small clubs, telling stories in between numbers, as many artists do. Eventually, he started jotting down the stories he would tell and slowly realized he had the skeleton of a script for a musical. By 2013, Scheuer was meeting with various directors about the idea and, as director Sean Daniels recalls: “While everybody else pitched him their vision, I was the first director to say ‘I’m happy to work with you, but you don’t have a musical. You have four songs. We’d need to start over at the beginning.’” Scheuer agreed and they began working together to map out the story and develop it into a script for the stage.
The first drafts of the script were developed at Weston Playhouse in Vermont. “It was Sean who was my mentor and guide, who helped me put together the outline of the piece and was my gentle bully as I wrote the show,” Scheuer told Playbill, “he was dramaturg and editor and encourager and psychologist and best pal and breakfast-maker.” That breakfast came one morning after Daniels suggested that Benjamin write a postcard to his father to process some of the unresolved emotions he had surrounding their relationship. The suggestion made Benjamin cry, which had Daniels running across the street for some good bacon to whip up a meal worthy of a much-needed break. “The process was part working on a show and part therapy,” said Daniels of the early development. “My primary role was to help him figure out how to crystalize the story.”
Eventually, much of the original music was discarded in favor of new material that got to the core of the narrative. “Ultimately,” said Daniels, “Scheuer’s story was about the idea that really great things can come from really awful things. It’s a story we all really want to hear and we all desperately want to believe it can be true.” As that truth emerged, a 45-minute version of the show called The Bridge was ready for its debut at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. It was around this time that Portland Center Stage seized the opportunity to bring Scheuer’s tale to Portland. “What every PCS audience member needs to know is that Chris Coleman believed in this show long before any other theaters were interested. Back when other theaters were turning it down, Chris listened to some of the songs and signed us before it had even opened in New York. When you’re developing a new piece, you need people to believe in the work to make a show happen. Chris was one of those people for us,” reported Daniels on a phone call from New Orleans a few weeks before he headed to Portland for this production.
After the 2013 Edinburgh performance, the show continued to morph. Scheuer and Daniels knew it still needed work, so they headed to New York to workshop the script for three weeks at the Manhattan Theatre Club. They added new songs and more guitars (including the first use of an electric guitar) and the show finally emerged with its new title, The Lion. The American premiere in 2014 at MTC was hugely successful – garnering rave reviews and selling out performances – and they’ve been busy ever since. “It’s really been amazing, sky rocketing ever since that tiny, 45-minute show in Edinburgh,” said Daniels of the success of The Lion. After the New York premiere, Scheuer and Daniels headed back to the U.K. for the debut on London’s West End, and then back to New York again for the first commercial run Off-Broadway at The Lynn Redgrave Theater. In March of 2015, the national tour of The Lion was announced.
With the Portland production and the impending national tour, the focus for Daniels as the director has turned to identifying the best way to tell this story in different venues. “The intimacy has to be adjusted for each space,” said Daniels, “We want it to feel like it’s your friend coming over to your house and telling you this story.” Now that Scheuer and Daniels have this show dialed in, they’ve had the chance to start brainstorming on the next musical Scheuer has planned. Daniels is also currently working on developing another musical theater piece, BOUDIN, about New Orleanians’ relationship to music. When asked why Daniels is drawn in particular to directing musical projects, he said, “I’m always fascinated by the type of shows that can only happen in a specific medium. Ben coming out on stage and being a friend to you and baring his soul to you is something that has to happen in person. It’s this art form’s competitive advantage.”

The Lion opens at PCS on May 8, with preview performances beginning May 2. 



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