BWW Exclusive Interview: Ben Vereen Talks CD Single, STEPPIN' OUT, SNEAKY PETE & More
Broadway legend Ben Vereen is releasing a studio recorded single today. He is also gearing up for a run of his solo show STEPPIN' OUT at Feinstein's/54 Below from November 21 to 26, filming the second season of SNEAKY PETE for Amazon, and continuing to his work with Wellness Through the Arts. To get the scoop on all of these projects, we sat down with Vereen to chat.
Today, you release a single of you singing "What A Wonderful World." What was the inspiration behind recording this solo single?
Ben Vereen: Think about the words. It's a wonderful world. This is something that we must keep at the forefront of our minds as we go forward in these times-that the world is wonderful. It's what we do with it that makes it great or less great, and I'm for making the world greater. I'm for the wonderfulness of the world. Each one of us makes up this wonderful, glorious planet. I am just so honored to have had the opportunity to record it, and I hope people like it and enjoy it.
It is my understanding that it is your first time being in a studio in quite a while. So, what has it been like getting back into the studio?
Ben Vereen: It's a little frightening [laughs] because I'm a live performer. So, it's a learning curve because I've never looked at myself as a recording artist. I look at myself as a performing artist. Dan Watt has allowed me to go into the recording studio and record these songs, and so we GIVE PRAISE and thanks. I hope the public enjoys them as much as we enjoyed making it for you.
The studio work doesn't stop with just a single. A full album is in the works. What it is like getting to help Broadway legend Ben Vereen to actualize a solo album?
Dan Watt: It's actually been an amazing journey. I reached out to Ben to do a benefit concert for the Art Attack Foundation, a non-profit I started fourteen years ago to raise funds for arts education and scholarships. After a few phone calls we had an in-person meeting, and I said that it's a shame there isn't a CD out there of his music, the songs he wants to sing, and I said, "Why don't we do one?" He said, "Ok!" When I got in my car, I started to tear up. I am a former dancer, and Ben is one of my idols. I am honored that he trusts me with this project.
Michael Croiter: Yellow Sound Label is thrilled to have the legendary Ben Vereen.join our family of artists. Ben's consistent pursuit of excellence and mastery of his craft has been an inspiration for generations.
Getting back to the topic of live performance, you're bringing STEPPIN' OUT back to Feinstein's/54 Below later in the month. What is that like for you-to get to reprise this show that has already been so well received?
Ben Vereen: You know what's so wonderful about it is it's over Thanksgiving isn't it? So, it's a time to be thankful. To celebrate Thanksgiving with my people, my audiences whom I love with all of my heart, is glorious for me. We have so much to be thankful for. We've been bombarded with things not to be thankful for. We've got to look beyond-to the invisible, where the greatness comes from-and the more we look towards the invisible, it will manifest itself to the visible, according to what you think. If you think great things, great things will show up in your life, and that's what I hold for everybody.
For fans who will be returning to see STEPPIN' OUT are there any surprises in store for them?
Ben Vereen: Yeah. There will be a few. [Laugh] I'm not going to tell you what they are, but there will be a few. [Laughs]
Fantastic. That is good to know! You've gotta keep people on their toes.
Ben Vereen: [Laughs] Yeah, we've got to keep them on their toes! Yes, they are quite surprised, and I hope greatly entertained.
Amazon's SNEAKY PETE got quickly renewed for a second season.
Ben Vereen: Yes it did! We were out one week, and it came out that we'd get a second season. Now we're talking about a third season.
What has it been like to find out that the show has been so well received?
Ben Vereen: It feels great. I mean, the atmosphere on the set is not really the actors, and the officials, the producers, but it's the crew. We get the crew involved, and they are excited about the project. It's magical.
You play this fascinating character, Porter. How did you prepare for Porter? How did you create him?
Going in to film the second season, what was it like getting to step back in to Porter's shoes?
Ben Vereen: It was wonderful. I hope the audience is going to enjoy it as much as they enjoyed the first.
I know that you're involved in some philanthropic enterprises, talk to me a little bit about what draws you to these different charitable organizations that you spend time with, and how you choose them.
Ben Vereen: Well, you know, I think that they choose me. I look out on the playing field, and I see the arts are being cut away from the schools. That breaks my heart that they are tearing away the arts from the schools.
So, I started to think of Wellness Through the Arts (WTA), which is to have kids who do not have the arts in school write an essay or create a two-minute video on obesity, low self-esteem, diabetes, or other maladies that are troubling them. Then, they submit it, and they have a chance to come to the Ben Vereen Awards, which is a Broadway/San Diego-Nederlander Presentation and sponsored by the San Diego County Credit Union. I interact with them and watch them develop their own art, and it gives them a chance to express themselves through the arts.
Right now, WTA is in Sacramento, Tuscon, and San Diego. We're targeting Chicago and New York. We're going to be moving around because it's not only about the students. It's about also transforming the minds of parents to support the arts. That's why I say, "Hold the line." We must now, in these particular times, hold the line for the arts. The line cannot be broken.
You can purchase Ben Vereen's single of "What a Wonderful World" from iTunes now. For tickets and more information about STEPPIN' OUT at Feinstein's/54 Below, please click here. To watch SNEAKY PETE, please click here. For more information about Wellness Through the Arts, please click here.