What anyone who’s frequented coffee houses knows is that it’s the atmosphere that makes the place: tchotchkes, comfy and/or mismatched furniture, and, of course, books. In case you hadn’t noticed coffee houses have the tendency to lean toward the quirky and the academic. Take New Haven’s own Book Trader Café, for example. The Lion developed out of Benjamin’s Scheuer’s gigs playing spots like this around Greenwich Village. The storytelling and banter he offered the audience to keep their attention between songs developed into the script for his musical. Paying homage to the roots of the show, set designer Neil Patel recreated the vibe of those intimate downtown venues in the show’s set. With warm colors and textures and a relaxing simplicity the set feels like that coffee house around the corner you’d love to lazily hang out at sipping a steaming cup of something, especially on these cold winter days.
Naturally then when the set for The Lion was first built, it included a small shelf of prop books in the background to help suggest the ambiance of a cool little coffee shop. For Scheuer, though, those random prop books just didn’t cut it. After seeing the Alexander McQueen exhibit Savage Beauty in both New York and London and realizing it had improved from one city to the next, Scheuer was inspired. “I called up Sean Daniels [The Lion’s director] and was, like, what can we do to make The Lion better in every stop? What ability do we have to change stuff ‘cause the script for the most part is locked, the songs are locked, the blocking is locked, the costumes are locked. And he was, like, ‘what about the books?” It was decided then that if there were going to be books present onstage then they were not going to be generic pretty prop books, but a constant rotation of works that actually held some significance. So Scheuer started adding his own personal reads to the set and soon others got in on the act. “Different members of the crew and the team in every city, sometimes they’ll take a favorite book of theirs and they’ll put it on the set,” Scheuer explains. “People write [on social media] and say ‘what about this book?’ and I’ll put it up.” According to the songwriter, “the only part of the set that’s changing is the books.” Present on the set when it arrived at LWT were, among others, works by the Marquis de Sade and a book by Maile Meloy, the sister of The Decemberists’ frontman Collin Meloy.
If you don’t have a book to add to the set, but instead are looking for a good read after seeing The Lion then we have you covered too. Browse the books in our micro branch of The New Haven Free Public Library in the lobby that have been specially curated by NHFPL librarians according to the themes of the show as well as Benjamin Scheuer’s own music favorites and influences. If you have a Connecticut library card and find something you like, you can check the book out with our box office staff and return it to your local library branch. Maybe you’ll find something good enough to add to that onstage bookshelf. If so, be sure to send Benjamin Scheuer a message on Facebook (Benjamin Scheuer Official) or tweet him (@BenjaminScheuer) to ask if he’ll put it on the set!