THE LION-READ HOW THIS OFF-BROADWAY STAR ROARS!!!!
The Huffington Post calls “The Lion” THE BEST SHOW I’VE SEEN THIS YEAR! I had the greatest pleasure to sit backstage with Benjamin Scheuer who starred in this year’s Off-Broadway show The Lion and is touring the US with his amazing musical story.
Benjamin: Hello N’Kenge, Hello world of the internet.
N’Kenge: Yes we are in your dressing with lots of water bottles…
Benjamin: Artists get free water and a small salary, and all the water we can drink.
N’Kenge: (laughs) Benjamin please tell us for those who are not familiar with you and what you do, where are you from?
Benjamin: I’m Benjamin Scheuer, I’m here from New York City, and The Lion is a show that I wrote, about my family, it’s an autobiographical show. I sing and play the guitar, it’s 70 minutes and I play 6 different guitars, and I tell some stories and I talke about my relationship with my father, and I talk about getting very sick and then getting better. And I talk about what it means to become a man, for me. And it’s my story, but we all go through the same stuff and want to feel a little bit less alone in the world and that’s what this show is about.
N’Kenge: Before The Lion came to this Off-Broadway theater, where was your first performance and what was the inspiration behind it?
Benjamin: I first performed some of the songs in the show in the Lincoln center songbook series. I was performing a record I’d made with my band Escapist Papers. The record was called THE BRIDGE, and THE BRIDGE had on it some autobiographical songs. I first performed with Lincoln center songbook series, then I was playing around in little coffeeshops in Greenwich village, and I didn’t know what I was going to say between the songs so I wrote a script. So I had a script, and a score which is, extensively the beginnings of a musical. And I chucked out, most of the songs on the record, and wrote 16 new ones. And with the help of director Sean Daniels, who I met at the Goodspeed Theatre in Connecticut-we became buddies, and we took The Lion-which was then called THE BRIDGE after the album, we took the first draft of the show to the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland in 2012. We were among 2,000 shows there and we were really honored when our show won best lyrics in the festival.
Benjamin- I was doing it in a little black box theatre with 3 guitars, 1 chair and no set and no costumes and no light changes, and one microphone that I had to share between my guitar and my vocal and 6 people at a time. And I came back and was offered to do the show at the Manhattan Theatre Club, fabulous theatre and we went to the Manhattan Theatre Club and we played there and The Huffington Post said we were the best musical of the year so we sold a lot of tickets.
N’Kenge: It’s amazing what the newspaper will do!
Benjamin: Thank you newspaper, and they ran another review this week, and they said I’m in my forties, I’m not in my forties and they said there is a song in the show called “what makes a lion a lion” and it’s not called that, its called “3 little cubs”, so #journalism, #factchecking… but you know what I’ll take the nice review. We went off to London after Manhattan Theatre Club and in London we played at the St James Theatre-played 4 weeks there had a really great run.
N’Kenge: Fantastic. Please share with us who are your mentors, who are the people that said Benjamin, this is something you should be doing, or maybe even helped you develop the show? How did you get from point A to point C?
Benjamin: My grandmother told me when I was 18 that I should write musical theatre professionally and I told her she was crazy. She’s alive and well, and now feeling very smug because she was correct and she’s been a big influence on me. Andrew Lippa, writer, composer, dear friend of mine and he’s been a great supporter of me in the show, offered me thoughts, offered me wisdom and support, sometimes lunch when all I needed was a sandwich and people to stop telling me what to change. Geoff Kraly, my record producer, he’s producing the record of songs from the lion, which I’m making right now, he’s producing that album. He produced the opening song in the show, it’s called Cookie-tin Banjo and the video for the song, it’s an animated video and you can see that video on the interwebs and hear that song on itunes, it’s called Cookie-tin Banjo and Geoff produced that, and we’re making the rest of the record. He’s a tremendous influence, he’s also an extraordinary songwriter, he’s got a band called Paris Monster and Paris Monster is certainly my favorite Rock n Roll Band around right now.
N’Kenge: We all know it takes a village to raise a child, and mentors, and people you believe in and can trust to help you along the way and as musicians we don’t do it by ourselves-
Benjamin: and of course the Director of the show, Sean Daniels he’s just the coolest, and he’s hilarious and helped me make the show feel real because, N’Kenge, I’m a terrible actor. This isn’t a joke, it’s a true statement. I’m a terrible actor whenever I try to act it doesn’t go well, but I can just about play myself, I can tell the truth about my own life. That’s what this show is, its not acting, I’m not pretending, it happened and if it gets to a place where it feels like bullshit, the audience can tell. I was told by a songwriting teacher, if you want to write a good song-write what you don’t what other people knowing about you, if you want to write a great song, write what you don’t want to know about yourself. It’s good advice.
N’Kenge: It’s very good advice for all you songwriters out there. I got to hear a bit of your music when you did a sneak peek at the players club with Andrew Lippa as the moderator. It was wonderful to hear the passion behind your music and that’s because its coming from you, its coming from your heart its not something that’s fabricated.
Benjamin: Well thank you very much I appreciate it. I talk about some pretty difficult things in the show like when I was diagnosed with cancer. I talk about going through chemotherapy and I have gotten a criticism on the show which I welcome that I don’t write poetically. The lyrics aren’t poetic and I said absolutely, I agree. I have no intention of being poetic. To me cancer is not poetic. Here’s what happened, I’m just going to tell you in the most straightforward way and if you don’t like it because its not poetic, then the shows not for you. Because as far as I’m concerned cancers not poetic, but it is real.
N’Kenge: It is real and you are living proof of being one of the survivors, and that’s pretty amazing-
Benjamin: yeah, it is amazing. Medicine is extraordinary and I’m working with the leukemia-lymphoma society right now- I actually made a book, while I was ill I was photographed once a week by Riyah Lerner, she teaches at the international center of photography we put these photographs into a book along with text from my journal and the book is called “Between two spaces” and its being sold at www.betweentwospaces.com to raise money for the leukemia-lymphoma society which is something I feel very strongly about and would encourage anyone who’d like to support. Go to betweentwospaces.com and get a copy. They’re $45, all of the layout is done by my dear friend Lia Strasser. She’s a wonderful artist here in new york as well.
N’Kenge: It’s very remarkable that you’re a survivor, able to tell about your story off broadway. What are the plans for this amazing and remarkable show after march?
Benjamin: For all of May and the first half of June, I’ll be at Portland center stage in Portland Oregon doing the show, and after that our plan is to tour the united states at the end of 2016. It hasn’t been announced yet and I can promise that if people check out www.thelionmusical.com in the coming days those tour dates will be up pretty soon, so people all around the U.S , I hope I have the honor and pleasure of performing for you.
N’Kenge: That’s great. We are so happy to hear your story!
Benjamin: N’Kenge thank you for interviewing me!
N’Kenge is a Opera/Pop Singer that originated the role of Mary Wells on Broadway in Motown: The Musical. Visit her divankenge youtube channel to watch the full interview and visit www.nkengemusic.com for N’Kenge’s music and concert tours.
After many years of performing numerous Holiday Concerts, I decided to finally make a Holiday Album. My last Holiday concert I produced in New York City was at the Historic Triad Theatre. I have done a few shows at this charming Theatre. The Theatre is also very sentimental to me. Being a native New Yorker, I have seen this Theatre go through various names and managements. I remember singing at this Theatre at the young age of 12 when I was a little girl scared half to death to sing in front of just about anyone at the time!!!! So there is a lot of history between this Theatre and I;-)
Holiday Magic was never intended to be an Album. It was initially a concert I did a few times last year. Several weeks afterwards, guests who had attended the concert were inquiring if I was performing the show again or if I had a CD recording of it. The answer was sadly no. When this Holiday Season came, I was again asked if I was going to perform that same show this Year in NYC. The answer again was no since I was engaged to perform Holiday concerts in both Charleston, SC and Whitefish, MT. I thought why not make a recording of that concert. I have never made a Holiday CD before but I did have the Holiday Concert professionally video recorded in HD.
I went into the editing room with my team and came out with both a DVD and CD recording of my most requested show which is HOLIDAY MAGIC. This performance featured some great dancers, fantastic musicians and talented Featured Soloists. I truly hope all my friends, family and fans enjoy these recordings as much as I enjoyed packaging it for individuals to have their very own N’Kenge Holiday Concert in their home. Happy Listening and Happy Holidays!!!!
I finally returned home from the Michael Jackson World Tour this summer to a bittersweet conclusion. Happy to be home, elated that I had such an amazing experience on the tour, but not happy to be unemployed. With that said, I got back to the grind and began the normal N’Kenge hustle. Audition for everything and anything until that phone call comes in and says “N’Kenge we’d love to offer you to the role of….”
I read about the actors equity open call auditions for the New York Musical Theater Festival. I’ve always wanted to be apart of it but never was home during the time period of the festival so I never auditioned. This time I was home and AVAILABLE! I did the entire week of auditions where you get to sing for all the Directors and Casting Agents for each musical. Singing for so many people was like being a kid in a candy store except there is that one candy you have your eyes on during the entire time. For me that candy was TUT. I read the breakdown and REALLY wanted to be apart of it. When I did the audition for TUT and three other musicals at the same time, I felt really great about it. All I kept thinking to myself is “I hope I get TUT, I hope I get TUT”. Then I thought about the process. Usually they do the open call auditions before the agent submitted auditions which meant I might not hear back for a couple of weeks. I hate the waiting process…ugh.
Somehow the universe had mercy on me because I received a message from Tut’s Director Abdel Salaam only 2 hours after I sang in the audition. I was then asked to submit a few recordings of myself since the composer Marcus Hummon was currently out of the country. Two hours after I submitted the mp3s, I got the CALL. “N’Kenge, we’d love to offer you the role of King’s Tut’s wife Ankhesenamun”. I was soooooooooooooooo happy I couldn’t contain myself.
A few weeks later, I learned that they were still seeking a TUT. The night before the auditions I called my very talented tenor friend Curtis Wiley to see if he was auditioning. To my shock, he knew nothing about it. After some emails back and forth with the General Manager, I got Curtis seen and Curtis did not disappoint. A day later, he told me that he was now my TUT.
Now with less than a week away from opening night, the experience has been just magical. Working with such a great team of people has been so rewarding. The choreography and direction from Abdel Salaam is breath-taking and the music of Grammy Award winner Marcus Hummon is simply undeniable. I LOVE the music. Beautiful pop/theater melodies with classical roots makes me wonder why TUT is not a musical being played all over the world. Soon enough soon enough;-) Hear for yourself and check out the link from one of the rehearsals!
This is my very first blog and I wish I had this forum to share my experiences while I was on the Tour. Since I didn’t, I’ll try to recap to the best of my ability on this amazing journey.
I remember when the Michael Jackson Tribute Show World Tour began, I felt like I was going to embark on something extraordinary. The excitement of discovering new cities, different cultures and developing new friendships. Of course, I packed everything BUT the kitchen sink. I should have known in the beginning that I was going to be stuffing my bags and carry-ons with NEW items after each city.
I have toured through some amazing parts of the world singing Opera which was in itself quite magnificent. The costumes, the full orchestra, singing in a different language and the dramatic staging was always so magical to me. Bringing to life music that was composed hundreds of years ago always gave me an out of body experience. BUT doing a world tour performing Michael Jackson music…. That was a whole different ANIMAL. The crazy energy and excitement from the audience members when I stepped onto stage. Audience members dressed like Michael, singing the songs with you, standing up on their feet throughout show while we perform hit after hit after hit. I had this bigger than life feeling and it only made me want to give more and more and more in my performances. The energy and sweat coming from the dancers, the hypnotic vocals coming from the singers and that raw, edgy, funky sound coming from the band made me think every night that I was the luckiest performer in the world!!!
I am really sad to see this Chapter in my life end but oh what a Chapter it was. I’ve come away from this with so many amazing friends from around the world that I will have for the rest of my life. Happy Memories, good times, lots of dancing, laughter, and tears of joy. I toast to all of you who have shared in this journey and look forward to the journeys ahead.