Management: The Cooper Company
PR: Sunshine Sachs
Few entertainers today are as accomplished or versatile as Ben Vereen. His legendary performances transcend time and have been woven into the fabric of this country’s artistic legacy. His first love and passion is and always will be the stage. “The theatre was my first training ground. It taught me discipline, dedication and appreciation of hard work and values that will stay with me a lifetime. The stage sharpens the creative instrument and encourages you to go deeper inside and try new things,” states Ben. On Broadway, Ben Vereen has starred in Wicked, Fosse, I’m Not Rappaport, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Pippin, Grind, Jelly’s Last Jam and A Christmas Carol. His role in Pippin garnered him both the prestigious Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for “Best Actor in a Musical.”
Ben’s new Amazon TV series SNEAKY PETE, produced by David Shore and Bryan Cranston, which aired in January 2017, has already been picked up for a second season. This past Spring Ben stared in the 20th Century Fox show MAKING HISTORY alongside Leighton Meester, Adam Pally, and Yassir Lester. He also starred in the ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW for Twentieth Century Fox directed by Kenny Ortega and starring alongside Laverne Cox, Tim Curry, Reeve Carney, Christina Milian, and Victoria Justice, which aired on October 20th. Ben is currently working on his return to Broadway with his new show “Reflections.”
In January 2016, Ben signed with Americans for the Arts, the largest advocacy group of the Arts in America. Most recently, Ben went with other artists to speak on Capitol Hill defending the National Endowment for the Arts against the proposed budget cuts. They also took him to the DNC last summer where Ben spoke out to various senators, congressmen, governors on the arts and education and later Ben sang “WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW” with other Broadway Icons at the DNC.
Ben starred alongside Richard Gere in TIME OUT OF MIND and received a Variety Oscar Critic’s Pick mention! John Secor of the Sarasota Film Festival reported, “Ben Vereen is given his most textured role in years, and his sensitive performance reminds us why he’s a legend”. Ben also costarred in Chris Rock’s TOP FIVE, which opened to rave reviews. Ben starred in the world premiere of FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN directed by Des McAnuff (Jersey Boys).
While performing worldwide, Ben’s acting credits continue to give us memorable roles that stand the test of time such as the unforgettable Chicken George in Roots and Louis Armstrong in Louis Armstrong - Chicago Style. Ben’s television guest appearances include How I Met Your Mother, Grey’s Anatomy (for which he won the Prism Award), Hot in Cleveland (with Betty White), NCIS, House of Payne, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, OZ, Star Trek - The Next Generation, The Jamie Fox Show, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Ben has also had recurring roles on Silk Stalkings, Webster, and J.J. Starbuck and Booker. For Nickelodeon, Ben provided voice-overs on the show Wonder Pets! Additional credits include: Anne Rice’s Feast of All Saints (Showtime), Intruders They Are Among Us (Emmy nomination), Zoobilee Zoo, Faerie Tale Theatre’s Puss N’ Boots with Gregory Hines, The Jesse Owens Story, Ellis Island (Golden Globe Nomination), Lost in London, and Salute to Liberty Special. His own network television shows are Ben Vereen: His Roots (Seven Emmy Awards), Tenspeed and Brownshoe and You Write the Songs. In the early 90’s, he released a number of well-received children’s Sing-Along musical videos.
Ben was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for his performance in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship. He appeared in the features, 21 and A Wake-Up starring Faye Dunaway and Mama, I Want to Sing! in which Ben co-starred opposite Ciara and Patti LaBelle. While filming Idlewild with the award winning group Outkast, Ben also served as the acting coach for both Andre 3000 and Big Boy. In addition, Ben has been coaching the singing sensation Usher both as an entertainer and an actor. Ben was featured in the movie, On The One - Preaching to the Choir directed by Charles Randolph-Wright. Other film credits include Sweet Charity, All That Jazz, Funny Lady (Golden Globe
nomination), Why Do Fools Fall in Love, And Then Came Love starring Vanessa Williams, the animated movies Khumba and Once Upon a Forest, Christmas in Washington and The Painting which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, Ben was nominated for a “Career Achievement Award” by the Le Prix International Film Star Awards Organization.
For over 40 years, Ben has showcased his versatility and creativity, performing countless one-man shows in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Caribbean. He was the first simultaneous winner of the “Entertainer of the Year,” “Rising Star,” and “Song and Dance Star” awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA). He also earned a coveted spot in the Casino Legends Hall of Fame. Ben Vereen is currently touring his one man show, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, dazzling audiences throughout the United States. Ben’s show is a unique blend of artistry, combining a tribute to Broadway, Frank Sinatra, and a very special tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. Featuring songs such as “Defying Gravity,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “For Good” from Wicked and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen is a contemporary and timeless journey through the Broadway songbook. Ben promises an evening of song and dance, filled with entertainment and laughter, stories and inspiration!
Ben and his trio are currently touring his one man show, “Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen”. He also performs with symphonies around the country. http://www.thecoopercompany.biz/ben-vereen-concert-reel/
The lecture circuit has become an integral part of Ben’s career, as he has become one of the Nations’ most requested speakers among audiences of all ages. His strong sense of social consciousness has enabled him to reach out to his audiences and convey to them a deep feeling of understanding. His topics range from overcoming adversity, arts in education, Black history, motivational topics, Broadway lecture with song, recovery through physical and occupational therapy and the importance of continuing education - to name a few.
Ben’s gift of time has benefited many organizations. He has served on Ballet Florida’s Board of Directors, the American Red Cross and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Association. In 1989, he spearheaded his own organization, “Celebrities for a Drug Free America,” which raised money for drug rehabilitation centers, educational programs and inner city community-based projects. The Community Mental Health Council awarded Ben with their 2004 Lifeline Celebration Achievement Award. For his humanitarian contributions, he has received a number of awards including Israel's Cultural and Humanitarian Awards, three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award and a Victory Award. He has received honorary
doctorates from the University of Arizona, Emerson College, St. Francis College, and Columbia College in Chicago. In 2001, Medgar Evers College created the Ben Vereen Scholarship for the Performing Arts, and in 2004, he received an Achievement in Excellence Award from his alma mater, the High School of the Performing Arts.
Ben celebrated Eartha Kitt’s 80th birthday in concert at Carnegie Hall to multiple standing ovations and in front of the Armed Forces for those men and women who have served in Iraq, truly a major highlight of his career. In 2009, he performed at the Inaugural Ball and entertained at the reopening of the Ford Theatre in Washington, D.C., which was attended by President Obama. Ben entertained at the Friar’s Club gala honouring CBS president Leslie Moonves. Soon after, Ben led ongoing diabetes awareness campaign called “S.T.A.N.D.” in partnership with Sanofi-Aventis pharmaceuticals where he represented them exclusively for a few years. Soon after Ben, became a celebrity ambassador with Novo Nordisk where he currently travels around the country speaking on Living with Type 2 Diabetes.
In February of 2011, Ben released his CD Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen and staged a triumphant return to Broadway with his concert “BEN VEREEN ON BROADWAY AT TOWN HALL”.
On January 30th, 2012, Ben was inducted in to The Theatre Hall of Fame. He performed for 100,000 people at the Washington Monument on July 4th and in August, Ben was inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame. Ben also received the Broadwayworld.com 2012 Cabaret Award BEST CELEBRITY MALE VOCALIST for his dazzling 2 week run at the New York City’s latest music venue 54 Below. In May of 2013, Ben received his honorary degree from the LaGuardia School of Performing Arts.
In 2014, Ben founded the BEN VEREEN AWARDS. The Mission of the Ben Vereen Awards San Diego Competition is to utilize a competitive Tony® Awards style adjudication process, to find the very best of high school musical theater talent in San Diego County; and in collaboration with the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (NHSMTA), to present these talented young performers with a unique scholarship opportunity to advance their educations and careers in the genre of musical theater. The NHSMTA, also known as The Jimmy™ Awards®, is named after Chairman James M. Nederlander. It celebrates outstanding student achievement in high school musical theater in the areas of vocal, dance, and acting performance.
Ben led the American Athletes into the LA Coliseum for The Special Olympics, followed by participating in Producer Nigel Lythgoe’s event in Beverly Hills introducing dance as a competition for the first time in the history of the Special Olympics. At the DIZZY FEET FOUNDATION GALA, Ben presented an award to George Chakiris and Russ Tamblyn the stars of WEST SIDE STORY. Ben is proud to announce the newly formed organization WELLNESS THROUGH THE ARTS, benefiting young people across America.
As Ben continues working as an actor, singer, dancer, in television, film and onstage, he is now developing 2 plays for Broadway, one THE FIRST GRADER being written by award winning playwright WILL POWER and the other, a musical, written by JOE CALARCO, with music by Stephen Schwartz and another composer soon to be announced. Ben continues his journey having created the new BEN VEREEN’S QUEST FOR THE ARTS, summer intensive that promises to be unlike any other program in the United States. Ben is currently writing his biography with Pulitzer award winning Craig Wolfe.
TIME OUT OF MIND FILM REVIEWS
It’s not until George finds himself in the company of an endlessly talkative fellow wanderer (wonderfully played by the stage and screen veteran Ben Vereen), who will neither shut up nor let his new comrade go, that he finds the courage to open up, briefly, about the life he once had and lost. – VARIETY
Played with grit and grace by Ben Vereen. – ROLLING STONE
Ben Vereen, as George’s sometime friend, adds a necessary jolt of lively, impatient wit. – NEW YORK TIMES
Talkative veteran shelter-dweller Dixon, a superb Ben Vereen, [is] the only person who gets George to open up even a little bit about his past – NEW YORK POST
An outstanding Ben Vereen as a garrulous, upbeat man, also living on the street, who drives the taciturn George up the wall and warms his heart just a little. – NPR
Stage god Ben Vereen just kills it in the half hour or so he spends in "Time Out of Mind." Magnetically played by a stage legend who’s rarely given this kind of chance to work his magic in the movies – METRO
Its second half lightens with the introduction of Dixon (the excellent Ben Vereen), a chatterbox from the shelter…– THE VILLAGE VOICE
The dramatic juice comes foremost from Vereen, whose Dixon is a vibrant force of unrealized dreams. – SAN FRANCISCO EXAMINER
“Mr. Vereen is an old-school song and dance man who never lets up. He wins you over with his sheer energy, good will and showbiz know-how.”
- New York Times
“Simply hearing the name Ben Vereen uttered invokes the magic and allure of Broadway. From originating key roles in Jesus Christ Superstar and Pippin to being a notable replacement in shows like Jelly's Last Jam and Wicked, Vereen has called the stages of Broadway home for years. Therefore, it is no surprise that he commands an audience with charm and pizzazz, easily entertaining a full house at 54 Below with his new cabaret show Steppin' Out.”
- Broadway World
“The 65-years-young star is expending enough energy up there to power all of the Big Apple.”
“Vereen blows onto the stage with a gale force ready to sweep the audience up, up and away.”
- New York Daily News
AN EVENING WITH BEN VEREEN REVIEWS
“Everything finally coalesced in ‘Mr. Bojangles,’ when he became an archetypal vaudevillian: singing, dancing, whistling – doing it all.”
– The New York Times
“It’s always pleasant to spend time in the company of a survivor, a pro, and a performing prince. Ben Vereen is all three.”
– The New York Observer
“Vereen brilliantly catches the essence of the legendary star.”
“If you weren't a fan of Ben Vereen when the show started, you definitely were at the end.”
– EU Jacksonville
“Master entertainer Ben Vereen invoked some of that tail-finned, martini-drenched era.”
– San Diego Arts
“He’s charming, funny and intense, and he makes a strong connection with his audience… He’s a large-scale performer and brings theater-size pizzazz with him wherever he goes.”
– Chad Jones, Theater Dogs – San Francisco
“Warmth, humor, happiness and schmaltz – the good kind – poured from the veteran singer, actor and dancer.”
– The Birmingham News
“Ben Vereen's performance at The Town Hall on February 18th was a lesson in performance energy…..a tour de force ….Without a single synthesizer, with no voice tuner, with only an acoustic band, Vereen displayed shocking innovation.”…..“ He flirted with off notes and inventive runs during classics such as "My Funny Valentine." This is always a dangerous idea, because it risks alienating the audience who wants to hear the melody of a familiar tune, but Vereen not only pulled it off, he left the audience wanting him to do more…The lasting impression was of a man who loves life, wants you to love life, and has mastered both his medium and his message. At age 65, he is the youngest man performing today.
- The Newark Examiner
TESTIMONIALS FROM ‘A MASTER CLASS WITH BEN VEREEN’
“The class was STUNNING. Ben arrived, sat down, looked the kids in the eyes and opened up his heart. When he worked with two singers, he was able to move them to a completely new territory in emotionally connecting with the material. Their voices, minds and hearts soared and the audience of about 200 were in tears. Thank you again ever so much. A few of ours including some staff got to the show on Saturday night and raved. Thanks for bringing him into town!”
- Greg Dowler-Coltman (class promoter)
BEN VEREEN’S REVIEWS IN “FETCH CLAY, MAKE MAN”
“A seething resentment can be sensed underneath the wary cool with which Fetchit negotiates with Fox. In brief snippets from the routines that made Fetchit famous (and infamous), Mr. Vereen also reveals the glowing pride of an entertainer whose gifts sometimes managed to transcend the offensive uses to which they were put.”
–New York Times
“The dramatic center is Ben Vereen's role as Lincoln Perry, the vaudeville performer who made his fortune in silent films and Depression-era talkies playing screen persona Stepin Fetchit, the quintessential negative stereotype of the shuffling, smiling, work-shirking Negro...Tapping all the undiminished charisma and limber body language of a veteran song-and-dance man, Vereen effortlessly sells the now-reviled representation of the black flunky while slyly asserting the cultured, savvy negotiator beneath; it's a performance of enormous charm and intelligence.”
“As Fetchit, Ben Vereen creates a man who comports himself with dignity in hopes of negating all that he did before. In one scene, after Fetchit has been forced to acknowledge what he’d been, Vereen blinks three times, and actually manages to make a statement with each blink: The first acknowledges the charge, the second shows his pain at being reminded, and the third hopes to push away the memory.”
BEN VEREEN’S REVIEWS IN “TIME OUT OF MIND”
“…it’s not until George finds himself in the company of an endlessly talkative fellow wanderer (wonderfully played by the stage and screen veteran Ben Vereen), who will neither shut up nor let his new comrade go, that he finds the courage to open up, briefly, about the life he once had and lost.”
BEN VEREEN’S REVIEWS IN “PIPPIN”
“It was, I felt, Mr. Vereen who really held the show together. Following his demonic performance last season as Judas in 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' Mr. Vereen here shows all the makings of a superstar himself. His mocking presence and voice, his deft dancing and easy authority, make his performance one of the most impressive aspects of the evening.”
- The New York Times
BEN VEREEN’S REVIEWS IN “TOP FIVE”
“Andre’s battles with alcohol and his need to be recognized as a serious artist may seem like your typical bouts of celebrity vanity, but they also feel genuine, especially when we encounter his dad (the great Ben Vereen) during a rather unsettling scene set in the old neighborhood.”
-The Hollywood Reporter
Ben Vereen charms, enraptures audience
The Buffalo News
January 31, 2015
He could have done it with the eyes, the smile, the Sammy- and Sinatra-influenced style.
That’s really all it would have taken Saturday night for Ben Vereen to capture his Buffalo crowd.
Instead, he enraptured them with something more. A still-plush voice. Traces of his famous dance as he paced across the Kleinhans Music Hall stage.
Charm. Just ask any member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra who sits at the edge of their row. Vereen interacted with them all (but none as much as associate concertmaster and violinist Amy Glidden, the recipient of a Vereen serenade and, later, an embrace). And most of all, the message: A plea to support the arts.
Vereen considered not just the crowd, but every occupant of the building – orchestra members included – to be his audience as he delivered a set of nearly 20 songs, sprinkling tales from his storied career in between. The 68-year-old Tony winner regaled the crowd with stories of being a kid from pre-hipster Brooklyn (“the ghetto,” as he called it) gaining admittance to Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts. He talked about “my friend, Bob Fosse,” and “my mentor, Sammy Davis Jr.,” and the legend whose endorsement helped Vereen gain wide acceptance as a talented young black performer, Frank Sinatra.
“I’ve worked with giants, and called them friends,” said Vereen, who began the show in buttoned suit and tie, but soon removed his black jacket, set it atop the piano played by David Loeb, and delivered a passionate set of songs. He sang Sinatra and Sammy Davis, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and Stephen Schwartz, among other classics and Broadway hits, and gained momentum with every number.
Among the crowd favorites were “Defying Gravity” from Schwartz’ “Wicked”; the Lloyd Webber song “Memory” from “Cats”; and Sinatra’s “My Way.” (Vereen also admitted to once accusing a pianist during an audition of not knowing a song. The player? Andrew Lloyd Webber. “He wouldn’t talk to me for 10 years,” Vereen said.)
But no song nor moment, serious or silly, stood out more than Vereen’s adaptation of “Stand By Me,” which he changed lyrically to “Stand Up for the Arts.”
Prompting the entire crowd to rise and clap, Vereen delivered a passionate plea (one he admitted was “preaching to the choir”) to support arts funding.
Vereen, who has long been active on the lecture circuit as a motivational speaker, also spoke about recovering from a 1992 accident that threatened to end his singing and dancing career. He preached a message of taking control of one’s life – as he did, and has.
“Eighty percent of the people you complain to don’t care,” Vereen said, then added with a wry smile, “and the other 20 percent are glad it’s you.”
The evening began with a half-hour set by the philharmonic. Conductor Stefan Sanders led the orchestra through a series of Broadway renditions that included “Chicago,” “Godspell” and “On the Town.”
With Vereen in the backstage wings, Sanders talked about first seeing the legend perform decades ago on “The Muppet Show,” which (probably intentionally) emphasized the pop-culture power of the legend in our presence.
When you have someone like Vereen, who can talk about working with Sinatra and Davis and Fosse, who was trained in dance by Martha Graham, who once unwittingly told off Lloyd Webber, you know the show’s going to be good. And you know he’s the closest we can ever come to still experiencing the art of those who mentored him.
The only thing left to wonder, then, is which legendary performer will say years from now that they were inspired by Ben Vereen? And will the arts remain strong enough to give those performers a stage? It will take decades to know. But in the twilight of his career, Vereen is doing his part to make sure the answer is a good one.
How do you follow Frank Zappa?
Rather than dwell on the potential difficulty of this, Ben Vereen followed Zappa’s delightful ESO night by holding the Winspear in the palm of his hand himself. And rather than a simple concert format, Friday’s Ben Vereen performance was an informal musical biography of inspirations, influences and personal triumphs that spanned the career of the ultimate “triple threat” — a magical calling that has taken Vereen from Broadway to the silver screen, from sharing the stage with his mentor, Sammy Davis Jr., to playing Will Smith’s fictional father.
If you didn’t understand the immense talents Vereen holds, you certainly did after he performed.
Like Vereen mentioned many times, Edmonton has a treasure in the ESO. With tightness and perfection the ESO meshed with Vereen as if the two had been working in unison for years. The natural chemistry the two presented created an unspeakable performance. Powerful and electric, the team will hopefully meet again very soon.
Yet, as difficult as it is to outshine the ESO, Vereen did so. Starting with a radiant smile, Vereen’s charismatic personality and out-of-this-world performing range took the audience on a journey that captured his adolescent nervousness at one moment, and his pure showmanship the next.
Closing out the first half with his version of Sinatra's timeless "My Way," Ben Vereen stopped time for a brief moment. The enraptured Edmonton audience couldn't clap quickly enough for his chilling homage. At the start of the second half of the night, with an unmatched vocal range and a wonderfully pleasant skill, Vereen paid tribute to his mentor, the legendary Sammy Davis Jr., in a touching, well-crafted way, which will easily remain a memory for all in attendance. Vereen’s performance of “Mr. Bojangles,” made me stop and appreciate the song all over again.
Ben Vereen proved to be a special performance, with great thanks to the precise symphony, and once again witnessed magic.
Ben Vereen Is Steppin' Toward Broadway
By David Gordon of TheaterMania
March 17, 2015
It's been just about a decade since Ben Vereen was last on Broadway, as the wickedly wonderful Wizard in Wicked, and the Tony winner is now beginning to plot his return. "It's been much too long," Vereen says, with an air of wistfulness in his voice. "I miss the theater." He pauses. "I miss employment," he adds with a laugh.
Vereen's "as soon as possible" return will be in a career-retrospective solo show he's developing with the playwright and director Joe Calarco. He expects that they'll have it ready by the fall and that it will first play a tryout run before Broadway beckons. To get himself back in the groove, he's returning to 54 Below, the nightclub in the cellar of Studio 54, with a return engagement of his club act Steppin' Out, from March 17-21.
"The show is a celebration," says Vereen, a Tony and Drama Desk winner for his legendary performance as the Leading Player in Bob Fosse's original production of Pippin. "It's all about the people. They have allowed me this wonderful career, so it's my thank-you to them."
Given that Vereen's career is so closely associated with his work in Pippin, it's no surprise that "Magic to Do," Stephen Schwartz's mysterious opening number, is bound to make an appearance. Audiences can also expect to hear some other Schwartz ditties, like "Defying Gravity," the great Act 1 closer of Wicked. It's a song Vereen didn't sing during his several-month stint as the Wizard at the Gershwin Theatre, but one he greatly admires. "I love that song," Vereen says. "I think Stephen Schwartz is probably one of our greatest American composers and writers, and not just because he's a friend. I love the way this man puts words together."
He was equally supportive of the new Broadway revival of Pippin, which recently closed after a year-long run at the Music Box Theatre. Vereen, looking snazzy in a top hat, walked the red carpet on opening night. But the experience of seeing it didn't bring back any memories. "It's a different show. Fosse's Pippin was about Pippin. This was about something else. It was good and I enjoyed it, but it didn't take me back."
Besides, he has enough memories of that run. "Working with Bob Fosse and getting to be with Irene Ryan [who played Berthe]? My god," Vereen says, clearly impressed even at the thought. "I got to be onstage with Irene Ryan. Jill Clayburgh. John Rubinstein. How many people can say that?"
Vereen also hasn't forgotten about the filming of the storied Pippin television commercial, which famously showed viewers "a free minute from Pippin" and asked them to come back for the remaining 119 minutes live at the Imperial Theatre. "We went up to shoot at Pace and the camera guy didn't want Bob in the studio," Vereen recalls. "Bob went home and got his awards and came back and said to the guy, 'I think I can do this.' That was the one that turned Broadway around. Right after that, people started doing commercials."
Like the Pippin memories, Vereen's countless stories, many revolving around pivotal decades of theater history, are featured in Vereen's act. "It'll be wonderful just to be at 54," he concludes. "I remember [this place] back in the day…Oh, boy. That's another article."
Steppin' Out With Ben Vereen
By Brian Scott Lipton of TheaterMania
July 12, 2012
If, heaven forfend, New York City gets hit with a blackout in the next two weeks, all Con Edison needs to do is head over to 54 Below, where Steppin' Out With Ben Vereen is making its Gotham debut. Without question, the 65-years-young star is expending enough energy up there to power all of the Big Apple.
But it's not just the sweat -- caused in large part by Vereen's still-remarkable facility to dance like no one else (a fact made even more amazing by the fact that he was nearly paralyzed in 1992) -- that causes one to gasp or applaud repeatedly during this 75-minute set.
Instead, it's the tears -- and the passion -- that Vereen brings to his material that truly impresses. Every song has been chosen because of a personal connection and delivered with complete conviction.
The show begins with an extraordinary medley of tunes from Vereen's earliest Broadway work, including numbers from Pippin (for which he won the Tony Award) and Jesus Christ Superstar, interspersed with loving and sometimes hilarious anecdotes about Bob Fosse, Tom O'Horgan, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, and then wends its way through various autobiographically-inspired segments.
Among the highlights are a swinging salute to Frank Sinatra (which culminates with a stunning version of "My Way"), a heartfelt tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. that features a rewritten version of "Mr. Bojangles," and a special rendition of Ben E, King's "Stand By Me" that urges the audience to "Stand Up for the Arts." (And trust me, the audience follows instructions!)
For all of Vereen's considerable razzle-dazzle, though, the show finds its heart with its slower-tempo numbers, which are presented in such a way that one really considers the lyrics to these fine songs as if heard for the first time: Charles Aznavour's "I Didn't See The Time Go By," the classic "Life Is Just Bowl of a Cherries," and even Elton John and Bernie Taupin's sentimental "Your Song" (dedicated on opening night to Vereen's close friend, Liza Minnelli, one of the many celebrities in the packed house).
But at no time does Vereen make more of an impact than with two of Stephen Schwartz's tunes from Wicked (a show Vereen did on Broadway): "Defying Gravity," which gains added inspirational value from the knowledge of the adversity that Vereen personally overcame, and his final number, "For Good," in which he tells us how everyone's prayers aided in his recovery 20 years ago.
Seeing Ben Vereen will definitely change you both for the better and for good.
Ben Vereen Sang Sammy
Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra Review
By: DICK KEREKES
March 17, 2009
Times they are a changing. Have you noticed the changes in the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra? Oh, sure they still do what they what they have always done the best, classical music but have introduced a variety of programs and types of music to reach out to new audiences. In the past year, we have heard tributes to the Beatles, and the Eagles. We saw a joint effort between the symphony and the Alhambra Dinner Theatre to stage musicals like Music Man and West Side Story like we have never seen them performed.
Last weekend Ben Vereen performed with the JSO and the audience left knowing why Mr. Vereen is an Entertainment Legend and has been a star for the past 40 years, on the stage and television.
Vereen opened the first half of the show dressed in gray pin stripped suit that looked like a choir robe. He topped it off with a white scarf. After the intermission Vereen wore a snazzy black tux, with an extra long jacket, a black silk shirt with a red collar and bright red tie. Ever present was a single silver earring dangling from his left ear.
The first half was a potpourri of his favorite songs including numbers from Broadway musicals he has appeared in including West Side Story, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and the musical he won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, Pippin'. I especially liked his Frank Sinatra tribute which included some of my favorite Sinatra songs such as "Lady is a Tramp", "Come Fly with Me", "Chicago", "I've Got You Under My Skin, to name a few. He closed out this session with a special arrangement of "My Way" and Vereen did it his way, in a very unique style.
After a brief intermission, Ben sang Sammy as promised; of course I mean the one and only Sammy Davis Jr. He did not try to impersonate Davis, but presented his own special arrangements in that fit his own style of singing. While most songs featured the full orchestra, conducted by Nelson Kole on the keyboard, Vereen did a remarkable "My Funny Valentine" with only the bass playing.
Those of you, who remember Sammy Davis, recall he was a dynamo on stage, always moving and dancing. Vereen strutted and danced as well, using the full length of the stage to explore those great songs like, "Mr. Bojangles", "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered.", "Hey There", some of my favorites. He finished up with "What Kind of Fool Am I?" and the inspiring "I've Got to be Me".
It was not all music; Vereen is a great story teller and related several show business moments and how he was inspired by Sammy Davis Jr to become an entertainer. During the second half, he acknowledged the presence in the first row of the widow of Nat King Cole who apparently now lives in Jacksonville.
If you weren't a fan of Ben Vereen when the show started, you definitely were at the end.
The man is dynamic, and at 64 years of age, has the energy of a 30 year old. He performed for a full two hours at full speed most of the time, which was amazing considering that in l992 he was hit by an automobile, had a stroke and was in rehab for over 10 months. Vereen does a lot of symphony dates now and he praised Jacksonville for supporting the JSO in a time when he has seen a number of orchestra's go out of business.
If you missed this concert you missed a good one, but the future looks bright as the Jacksonville Symphony has put out their schedule for next season and it has some wonderful musical adventures planned. Check the it at jaxsymphony.org. Check out Ben Vereen in the movies in an upcoming independent film 21 and Wake Up and the soon to be released Fox feature Mama I Want to Sing in which Ben co-stars opposite Ciara and Pattie Labelle.
Thanks JSO for making it possible for me to see and hear one a most talent performers and one of the true good guys in the world of show business, Ben Vereen.
San Diego Arts
Ben Vereen Channels the Music of Sammy Davis, Jr.
By KENNETH HERMAN
April 5, 2008
The icons of the post-war, pre-Vietnam generation are slowly fading from the collective memory, pushed out by the denizens of reality TV, contestants on American Idol, and the fickle democracy of YouTube. How many have vivid memories of the "Rat Pack" and Las Vegas before it started to recreate Europe in miniature and act as the perpetual home of Cirque du Soleil?
Master entertainer Ben Vereen invoked some of that tail-finned, martini-drenched era with his San Diego Symphony Pops show at Copley Hall, "Ben Vereen Sings Sammy." His affectionate, sometimes overly effusive tribute to the music of Sammy Davis, Jr. brought the devil-may-care spirit of the cigar-smoking song-and-dance mascot of the fabled "Rat Pack" to life. Some may complain that Vereen's Davis was a "kindler, gentler," version of the original, but the suave entertainer warned us from the outset that he was not "doing Sammy Davis," but rather celebrating his music. At the manic end of the Davis canon, Vereen raced across "Once in A Lifetime" and "That Old Black Magic" with appropriate verve. Equally effective were his Gershwin medleys, giving a wistful, jazz-inflected slant to the familiar "Summertime" and a delectably free-wheeling account of "I Got Plenty of Nuttin'."
Perhaps his most moving moments were simple ballads with just guitar accompaniment, a haunting "Bewitched" from the Rodgers and Hart songbook, subtly conjured by guitarist Brian Nakagawa, and a heart-wringing, introspective "Hey there, You with the Stars in Your Eyes" with riveting counterpoint from bassist Mike Boone. Vereen did not forget that April 4 marked the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., for which he offered an impassioned "I Got to be Me."
Although there was an ample swath of the front of the Copley stage left available for some fancy choreography, Vereen kept his footwork to improvisatory, unpredictable flights of whimsy. In the dance category, I was expecting something a bit more sophisticated.
Guest conductor Philip Mann opened the concert with a generous serving of songs and dances from Leonard Bernstein catalogue, a savvy programming decision executed by the orchestra with a focus and conviction that is sometimes absent from Pops' performances. Mann chose a rousing tempo for the "Candide" Overture, and the players rose to the challenge with apparent ease. For this overture they fused the brassy snarl of a Broadway pit band with symphonic muscle, virtues they also brought to three dances episodes from "On the Town," Bernstein's earliest stage success. A medley of songs from "West Side Story," whose arranger was given the offhand attribution of "Mason" (a first name, a last name, a publisher?), was strong on nostalgia--the tunes themselves can recreate the musical's whole drama--but little more than serviceable in its predictable orchestration and linking together of the songs.
An energetic but purposeful conductor, Mann provided just enough clever commentary to make the ample Copley Hall audience feel welcome and part of the proceedings.