BWW Interview: BEN VEREEN of STEPPIN' OUT WITH BEN VEREEN at the Musical Instrument Museum
The Musical Instrument Museum presents STEPPIN' OUT WITH Ben Vereen bringing the legendary performer to Phoenix for two shows on April 20th. He was able to spend a few minutes on the phone with me leading up to the concerts.
I saw you perform to a sold-out house at the Chandler Center for the Arts just three years ago. That venue seats 1,500. The Musical Instrument Museum seats under 300. How does that affect the show?
It's much more intimate. It will be more one-on-one with the people, more close-contact with them. And it affects the material.
Do you mean the set list or the stories or...?
Lots of new material, Broadway and jazz. I'll be doing Sammy Davis, Frank Sinatra, Shirley McClaine, Usher, a lot of songs.
Usher is your Godson, yes?
I promised him I'd do something of his. I don't know which one I'm gonna do. (laughing) I've gotta find one that doesn't go "baby, baby, baby."
You mentioned "one-on-one" does that mean more of a narrative in this show?
A lot of stories, lotta stories. My journey. I'm in the process of writing my book so it's great to also tell it and connect and get people's reactions while I'm doing that.
FOSSE/VERDON premieres this week, do you have any thoughts?
I hope they concentrate on the artistry of them. They gave us great art and that's what I'm looking for is the art. I think Nicole, their daughter, being onboard means it will all be handled well.
In the other Fosse biography, ALL THAT JAZZ (Mr. Fosse's autobiographical film), the legend is that your part ended up much bigger than it started. What can you tell me about that?
Well, here's what happened. Bob called me, I was at the MGM Grand at the time. He said, "I need you for two days." I said, "OK, so I flew out for two days. Shot the scene where I'm the TV host. I left. Then he called me and said, "Ben, I'm stuck for the ending. Can you come back? I only need you for a week. I was there three and a half weeks."
Well, Roy Scheider was amazing, of course, in the whole film but for that final dance section Mr. Fosse needed to call in one of his aces.
I must give Roy kudos, he did a magnificent job, this man is not a dancer but he busted his butt to pull it off. One day, he had a shiner on his hip you wouldn't believe.
Oh! I know when you mean! When he does that slide, really towards the end?
That's the one. When he hit the ground, you could've heard it in Detroit. We all winced, but he got up, "Let's go, let's go, let's keep going" and limping all the way.
This has been such a pleasure. I'm looking forward to more stories like that at your show and I hope your Phoenix area fans realize that, like I said, you sold out a large venue here just three years ago and if they want to see your new, much more intimate show they better purchase tickets soon.
Ben Vereen performs at the Musical Instrument Museum on Saturday, April 20th at 6PM and 9PM. www.mim.org