Interview: Tony Award-Winner Ben Vereen Talks STEPPIN' OUT, PIPPIN, & ROOTS

The legendary Tony-winning song & dance man is coming to town!

By: Mar. 24, 2023
Interview: Tony Award-Winner Ben Vereen Talks STEPPIN' OUT, PIPPIN, & ROOTS

On Saturday, April 1st, Broadway legend Ben Vereen will be coming to North Carolina to perform at High Point Theatre with his one-man show, STEPPIN' OUT.

Dazzling audiences throughout the United States, STEPPIN' OUT is a unique blend of artistry, combining a tribute to Broadway, Frank Sinatra, and a very special tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. The one-man show 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! This will be a special concert as it is Ben's mission to give back to the Deaf community. This performance incorporates ASL interpretation.

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. He starred in the Chuck Lorre television series B POSITIVE for CBS, as well as multiple episodes of THE GOOD FIGHT, also for CBS, playing FREDERICK DOUGLAS. In 2022, he received the Sidney Poitier LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT Award at the National Black Theatre Festival, and in June, he was awarded the inaugural JUNETEENTH LEGACY AWARD from the Broadway League, as well as receiving the HERO'S AWARD from the First Responder's Children's Foundation due to his presence at Ground Zero in helping the first responders. Ben was chosen to be the face of Welcome Back New York City and Broadway as a national commercial.

Ben Vereen appeared in MAGNUM P.I. and BULL for CBS, multiple episodes of STAR for Fox, and the BET Series TALES. Ben also co-starred with Richard Gere in TIME OUT OF MIND, Chris Rock in TOP FIVE, and was featured as Dr. Scott in the re-imagined THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW for 20th Century Fox. Bryan Cranston picked Ben to co-star in SNEAKY PETE for Amazon. Ben continues to tour the country with his concert act, motivational lectures, and master classes. As you know, he won a Tony Award for PIPPIN, starred in other Broadway shows such as JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, FOSSE, HAIR, JELLY'S LAST JAM, CHICAGO, WICKED, I'M NOT RAPPAPORT, to name a few and is remembered for films like SWEET CHARITY, ALL THAT JAZZ, and his Emmy nominated role of Chicken George in the iconic television miniseries, ROOTS. I had the great pleasure of interviewing Ben via email about his upcoming concert, some his career highlights, and more.

To start things off, how excited are you to be performing at High Point?
BV: I can't wait to get to High Point. Dave Briggs is a well known promoter and I happen to have family in Laurinburg who I pray will attend. Also, my fraternity PHI BETA SIGMA has a few chapters there.

What songs can audiences expect to hear from you?
BV: I will sing songs from my Broadway shows, include 'Magic to Do' from PIPPIN, a tribute to Broadway, a few standards, 'Stand by Me' or Stand by the Arts, 'Defying Gravity' from WICKED - my beloved Stephen Schwartz - I also sing a few of his songs; he is an American treasure and mine too! What I hope my audiences will discover from me is inspiration; that nothing can stop them from spiritual and personal success.

This will be a special concert as it's your mission to give back to the Deaf community. What does that mean to you?
BV: I had the pleasure of meeting Jeanette Lee and her husband during rehearsals in Las Vegas and I began to think there is so much more I can give during my performances. Jeanette is so inspirational and to date, she has been successful with me in sold out concerts in both Los Angeles and Chicago. I dearly hope this interview can somehow reach the Deaf community. It is important for them to experience what I do and how live performances are an integral part of our culture.

Going back to the beginning, how did you first get started in the theatre?
BV: I sang in church; I sang on streets and one day a man witnessed me singing and dancing and spoke to my mother about going to a local school and she agreed. After that I went, luckily to the High School of Performing Arts.

Throughout your career, you got to work with legendary director/choreographer Bob Fosse. I believe it all started with SWEET CHARITY. What was he like to work with?
BV: Bob represents genius, discipline, and devotion. He gave me my "ROOTS" so to speak, and lessons, lessons I keep to this day.

One of your collaborations with Fosse was on the original Broadway production of PIPPIN, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary last fall. I was lucky enough to have interviewed one of your co-stars, John Rubinstein, several years ago. How did you first get involved with that show?
BV: I was asked to audition, and it was a very long process; I sang 'Blue Skies' with the pianist. Then I was asked to sing it a capella - I never had been to Acapulco.....

You got to do a minute long TV spot for it, which was also the first commercial ever to feature a live clip of a musical. What was it like getting to do that?
BV: This was Bob Fosse's idea - PIPPIN wasn't selling as well as it could have and Bob came up with the idea and it was a brilliant concept that drove us to the point of selling out!

Your performance as The Leading Player won you a Tony Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical. What do you remember about the night that happened?
BV: If you go on YouTube, you can find my reaction. It's a brilliant recording. I jumped so high in the air; it was as if God and I were in this together - actually I am a very spiritual person and I know that night was a definitely turning point in my career. Thank you Bob Fosse. Thank you Stephen Schwartz.

You earned an Emmy nomination for your performance in the classic 1977 television miniseries ROOTS. What was it like getting to be a part of that show?
BV: It was an honor; remember this is/was history, my history and I was cast as CHICKEN GEORGE, almost an interlocker or guide in the miniseries. When the miniseries started, the streets emptied out. To this day, it is the number 1 watch miniseries. I was so proud and still am.

For those who'd like to pursue a career in the theatre, where do you think would be a good place to start?
BV: If you are fortunate enough to be in school or college, take every course in theatre you can, acting, dancing, movement, singing, writing, theatre history, stage management - understand the process. After school, continue to take classes, do showcases, study the current Broadway productions, go to the Lincoln Center Library and watch the incredible wealth of videos they have from Broadway. It is hard work and it takes discipline. Always take classes.

Before we go, do you have any other upcoming projects that you'd like to share with us?
BV: I am beginning a miniseries produced by both Morgan Freeman and Kevin Costner in April but can't say the name yet. I am also writing a book of my life with the famed Nick Chiles, and developing a documentary on my life. I also have a book on affirmations we are editing now; I spent 2 months in Bali earlier this year - and it restored the spirit inside of me. I am so grateful for that experience.

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From This Author - Jeffrey Kare

Jeffrey Kare currently resides in Raleigh, North Carolina. Having been born and raised in Northeast Ohio, Jeffrey took interest in live theater at age 11. He also had the great pleasure of seeing show... (read more about this author)


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