If you live in NYC, you will not want to miss the effervescent and vivacious Tony Award-Winning Broadway Star, Ben Vereen who will be performing his “Steppin’ Out Show at Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below Club from Tuesday, November 21st – November 25th. You can even spend Thanksgiving evening with Mr. Vereen as he sings and dances with his usual classy and sublime manner. Audiences will be treated to their favorite Broadway musical compositions that Mr. Vereen is so famous for, but Ben will also be premiering his new single, “What A Wonderful World” which just came out on iTunes, November 14th.
Although Ben Vereen has been a musical performer throughout his entire career, he has never released a solo studio recording. The single was produced by Dan Watt of DancinDan Productions LLC and Yellow Sound Label. Dancin Dan commented, “This song shows the incredible depth and artistic storytelling that makes Ben the consummate performer. Ben is truly one of a kind and I am honored to be on this journey with him.”
Ben Vereen is a Tony Award-winning actor for his role in Pippin and has starred in countless Broadway shows including Wicked, Fosse, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and I’m Not Rappaport, to name a few. Currently, Vereen is a series regular on Amazon’s “Sneaky Pete,” which has been renewed for a second season. In 2016, Vereen played the role of scientist “Dr. Scott” in Fox’s “The Rocky Horror Picture Show: Let’s Do the Time Warp Again” and was recently featured in Fox’s television series “Making History.”
His earlier credits in film and television including “All That Jazz,” “Sweet Charity,” “Funny Lady” (Golden Globe nomination), “Roots,” “Ellis Island” (Golden Globe Nomination), and the stage premiere of Fetch Clay, Make Man directed by Des McAnuff at the McCarter Theatre.
I have had the honor of seeing Ben Vereen perform the role of Claude in Hair and the role of Leading Player inPippin. I grew up on Broadway musicals. It was here I developed my love of jazz, my love of music. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when Dancin Dan asked if I wanted to interview Ben Vereen. Our 20 minutes together on the phone allowed me to experience not only an articulate, brilliant Artist, I also discovered he is a warm, compassionate, and extremely spiritual human being.
I began our conversation by telling Ben Vereen I had seen him on Broadway and he responded by saying, “Then we have known each other a long time Sheryl.
Our conversation continued …
The Hollywood 360: I was thinking of the title of your show called “Steppin’ Out and I want you to begin by talking about how you have been stepping out since the beginning of your career?
Ben Vereen: My intent was to spread Art and be a part of a new family that I had found. When I got caught up in the School of Performing Arts, it changed my life. Then I was honored to be stepping out in the “Prodigal Son” then with Langston Hughes. Then all of a sudden I stepped out one day and I met a guy named Bob Fosse. So stepping out is part of a calling. I’ve been blessed. I am so blessed. I’ve met so many talented friends along the way, and my fans, who I adore. I wouldn’t have this career if it wasn’t for these people showing up and saying, ‘We like you kid.’
The Hollywood 360: Could you talk about your experience on Broadway starting from the musical Hairplaying Claude.
Ben Vereen: I had just come back from London. My friend told me they were having auditions for a show called Hair and I knew nothing about it. They were auditioning for the Los Angeles Company opening at the Aquarius Theater. I was going to the audition and there happen to be a man shadowing me and he was a Tom O’Horgan, the revolutionary director of the theater. He liked me and took me to Los Angeles with the company. And then when I went back to NY, I stepped into the show, Jesus Christ Superstar.
The Hollywood 360: Then there was your Tony winning performance in Pippin.
Ben Vereen: I was led back to Broadway and had Bob Fosse calling me again. He called me and asked me to audition for the show. I really didn’t go down to the audition to get the show as much as I wanted to show Bob Fosse how much I had grown since the last time we had been together in Sweet Charity. We did the movie… I had all these experiences. I met Shirley MacLaine. I was just on a roll. It was wonderful. I was stepping out, stepping out. (Ben gives a deep belly laugh.) So I went down to the audition to show Bob how much I had grown and he said, “Okay, I didn’t like your reading but I’ll call you.” Then he did call me and I got the role of The Lead Player in Pippin.
The Hollywood 360: (I had to make sure I had heard Ben correctly) Bob Fosse didn’t like your reading?
Ben Vereen: He said the reading was terrible. I had never read for a Broadway show. It was like the opening ofAll That Jazz that every young male dancer in the world had gone through at the Palace Theater…
The Hollywood 360: How did you change that around from Bob Fosse’s feedback regarding your reading? You won a Tony for that role.
Ben Vereen: Yes I did. I am actually writing a book right now about my experiences. The first time I got nominated in Jesus Christ Superstar, I didn’t know who Tony was … when I was told I was nominated for a Tony, I asked, “Who’s Tony?”
The Hollywood 360: ( I laughed. ) It’s good to be young and naive sometimes.
Ben Vereen: But really, it’s all about the work. We as Artists reflect back to society exactly what is going on… To be entertaining in a telling way… It’s a gift, it’s an honor that’s why I love my work so much.
The Hollywood 360: That’s a good lead in for you talking about being an Artist and how you have evolved over time. How have you seen yourself evolve as an Artist?
Ben Vereen: I’m still evolving and finding out new things every day. It’s that field of God’s bouquet of flowers that you walk on through and you pick one flower over there and then you pick another one over here. You get these wisdoms from teachers and people who walk the path and you find yourself engaging in it and then you try to find out where these wisdoms reside inside yourself.
The Hollywood 360: What do you think the biggest change has been or the biggest lesson you have learned along the way?
Ben Vereen: The Knowledge. The lessons have come from my own life experience and applying the knowledge to my heart… Letting my Art be the outlet for whatever it is I am going through.
The Hollywood 360: It sounds like that has been a continuum for you.
Ben Vereen: It has been a continuum. Look at the Art that you do. You write, it evolves, you find new stories so people can be entertained and educated and satisfies people’s curiosity. It’s an Art form that you do.
The Hollywood 360: Please talk about your very rough experience with getting into a car accident and going through rehabilitation. You really overcame a huge obstacle in your life. You made a miraculous comeback. How did that affect you and where you are now in your career because of that.
Ben Vereen: When that accident happened in 1992 I had hit a tree. I was walking along the highway and I had a stroke and got hit by a truck. The doctors said I probably wouldn’t walk again. I went to a place called Kessler Institute in West Orange, NJ. During the time I was there, I wanted to see if I could do what the doctors had told me I would never do again. That was to perform.
So I went to see my friend Gregory Hines perform in a show Jelly’s Last Jam. After the applause for him was over, he introduced me to the audience. Then he asked my Manager, when I would be ready. My Manager asked him what do you mean. Gregory told him if Ben could be ready by July 2nd, the role of The Chimney Man that was played by Keith David would be given to me. That was all I needed to inspire me. The Kessler people got me ready, the singing coach, my dance therapist got me ready to walk on that stage.
I had to walk down a huge ramp to play that role. I had just begun to walk again. The doctors said I wouldn’t walk. I didn’t say this out of bragging terms … I’m saying if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone. We fall through these cracks in life and there are therapists, physical therapists, doctors, orderlies, people who care. I think about Kessler all the time. To know there are people who will catch you and put you back on the path.
I’m not the same dancer that I was before the accident. I am 71 now. I don’t want to do those backflips. My friend Chita Rivera called me and I asked her if I would ever dance again and she said, “You’ll dance Ben, but you will dance differently. And Viva la difference.”
The Hollywood 360: Let’s talk about your show at 54 Below.
Ben Vereen: It’s going to be great. 54 Below is a fabulous venue. The chef is amazing. The waiters are amazing. Good food. It’s a manner of reminiscing of shows that I have done and experiences that I have had and some friends that have helped me during this period of time.
The Hollywood 360: Can you say who some of the guests might be?
Ben Vereen: No. I don’t want to tell right now. It will be quite wonderful.
The Hollywood 360: Talk about the club. Michael Feinstein owns it. It must be a fabulous venue.
Ben Vereen: Michael is wonderful. He is a wonderful friend. To do anything for Michael is high class. The club itself is a divine outlet for Broadway performers.
The Hollywood 360: What will you be performing?
Ben Vereen: There will be some new songs too. There will be songs the audience will know and love from my Broadway musical shows.
The Hollywood 360: Do you have a favorite song?
Ben Vereen: I just released a single on iTunes. “What A Wonderful World.” I will be singing that as well.
The Hollywood 360: That’s another big news item. Tell us more about the song.
Ben Vereen: I think it’s an important song for where we are in our history. Let’s not forget mother earth, let’s not forget that which is our condition and looking at one another and what we are really saying … are you really seeing that person or are you seeing past them into nothingness. Are you taking time to look into the eyes of your fellow spirit and saying,“ I Love You.”
The Hollywood 360: Why did you wait so long to release your own music?
Ben Vereen: I tried to do it years ago but I wasn’t ready. Then Dan Watts was kind enough to tell me he wanted to produce me. He wanted to do a CD with me. We went into the studio and this was one of the products coming out of our recording. We have another single coming out in December called, “Both Sides Now” which is Joni Mitchell’s song.
The Hollywood 360: How many songs will be on the CD?
Ben Vereen: There will be about 12.
The Hollywood 360: Where are you recording it?
Ben Vereen: In NYC and Los Angeles. Wherever I can.
The Hollywood 360: Here’s my last question. Please say something you never said on any interview that you always wanted to say.
Ben Vereen: You are the power of the Universe within you. Know who you are my people and believe in who you are. Let the goodness come out and reign especially now in dark times. It’s time for your light to shine.
I will see you all at 54 Below.
For more information and tickets to 54 Below:
Photo Credit: Isak TIner