The Prickle (@ThePrickle) November 01, 2022
‘There’s going to be an opening number,’ Benjamin Scheuer informs the audience ‘you’ll imagine it was great’. This is a performance of the latest draft of his new solo show Elodie’s Mountain and this early showing of the scaffolding creates instant intimacy, trust and charm. Rather like comedians drop by the Comedy Cellar to see how new material lands, this is something of a musical equivalent. The audience is there to see the show as it is now and also to participate in shaping the show that will be.
So, where does this draft find the much-celebrated songwriter and his Kleban Prize-winning lyrics? Well, it’s been almost a decade since Scheuer told the story of his young life, family and defeat of cancer in The Bridge (a show that would eventually be adapted into The Lion). If that chapter was ‘the 20s’ then Elodie’s Mountain catches us up on ‘the 30s’. From the off, there’s a familiar sense of words —both spoken and sung— that are efficient, eloquent and endearing. Before the singing begins, Benjamin’s script introduces Jemima, the key character and collaborator of the last decade and a person with ‘a smile too big for her face’. Musically, we are also eased back into a guitar style that will be recognisable to those who have enjoyed his music before. The picking style and descending bass of ‘Hello Jemima’ almost acts as a form of musical recap for ‘last time on The Benjamin Scheuer Show’.
But this is not a replay of The Bridge. In the same way that the stage uniform continuity of white shirt and suspenders is now accented by desert boots, so too there are different flavours in the composition. There’s something more percussive in the guitar playing. There are three numbers that make use of a piano. Of these piano-accompanied pieces, it’s ‘Banged Up Cars’ that leaves the strongest impression for the imagery as well as being the narrative junction between old victory (beating cancer) and new foe (infertility). While at the piano, Benjamin gets creative with hand claps that might be the pitter-patter of new feet and then a heart stopping accompaniment to the line ‘heart beat has stopped’. While at the toy piano, ‘I Think Your Mother Is Sexy’ demonstrates the strength of any true great songwriter: the ability to write a compelling song on any instrument.
With the disclaimer that the edits are still a work-in-progress, the latest chapter of Ben’s musical autobiography is taking shape nicely. Whereas The Bridge was very specific to his own journey, Elodie’s Mountain contains more universal themes for this stage of life. This instalment is for folks contemplating partnership, growing older, childhood, rail transportation, parenthood, love, loss and Aberystwyth (substitute for the spousal hometown of your choice). For fans of The Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs, in one way or another this draft demonstrates 13 love songs: love being the through line that links family lost, family chosen and family created. Love songs very worthwhile hearing when they emerge in their next form.