Ben Vereen is back. And he's brought his bowl of cherries. On February 18, 2011, the legendary song and dance man will perform his concert, Stepping Out With Ben Vereen, at Town Hall in celebration of the release of his corresponding album. In the concert, recorded live during its recent Hartford engagement, Vereen highlights his stage career and delivers American Standards with his signature "razzle dazzle" as only he can.
Vereen won the Tony® Award for his renowned performance in Bob Fosse's Pippin, and has also starred on Broadway in Wicked, Fosse, Chicago, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Jelly's Last Jam, Grind, A Christmas Carol and I'm Not Rappaport. He recently guest starred on How I Met Your Mother and has previously appeared on Grey's Anatomy (Prism Award), Law & Order: CI, and starred in the Hallmark movie An Accidental Friendship (NAACP Nom.). Recently he starred in the new play Fetch Clay, Make Man, directed by Des McAnuff, which is rumored to be Broadway-bound as early as next year.
Vereen generously opened up to BroadwayWorld about the genesis of Stepping Out With Ben Vereen, what he plans to do with it, and why the experience has been so sweet.
Stepping Out Live is a live recording of your Hartford concert. Let's rewind a moment. How did the concert develop?
I've been developing and performing the concert for a while. The concert is the foundation of the one man show I've been working on, From Brooklyn to Broadway - that's the Working Title, that I hope to take around the world and play on Broadway one day. In the concert, I take the audience through the journey of my career and the people who helped and influenced me, like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., for example, and their cultural influences. I have these great musicians. And it's fun. It's a fun evening. Ultimately, these elements will be expanded upon in From Brooklyn to Broadway, and I perform more of the music of Sammy Davis Jr. and Frank Sinatra in tribute and things of the like, and incorporate a more insight into the times in which I grew up and developed. The show will go deeper into my head and more elaborately reveal what's going on around me, living in this country - in the world - in my time. In From Brooklyn to Broadway, you'll see through my eyes more deeply.
Are you writing From Brooklyn to Broadway yourself or are you collaborating with other writers?
Nelson Cole is writing the new music but I have pretty much arrange the format of the show. I have people come in and contribute ideas, however.
How did you pick and choose what sort of material to include in this concert? Is it a show of your favorites? Talk a bit about your process.
The concert is comprised mostly of my favorites, yes - songs from shows that I've done and ones that have touched my life. For example, I played the Wizard in Wicked and I include the songs "Wonderful," which was mine, and "Defying Gravity," which was actually Shoshana Bean's song as Elpheba but I included because I was so drawn to it. I also include Stephen Schwartz's "For Good" because I just love the lyrics. I also include songs from Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar. And on the other side, to get in songs that touch my heart, I include Sammy Davis Jr.'s "Ol' Black Magic," and "A Lot of Livin' to Do." From Frank Sinatra I like "My Way," "Under My Skin" as part of the medley of songs that I admire from his career. The show has a format, but it really is an expression of my heart.
Do you have a favorite concert moment - a favorite of the favorites, so to speak?
[Laughs], they are all my favorite. The moments are the moment. Each is like a breath. And in each, I breathe deep and enjoy it. They each have their own posture and their own expression.
You have such an appreciation for music from genre's past. How do you feel about the "rockier" style that is infiltrating theater now?
Everything evolves. But the mood is still the same. The foundation is still the same. Each era has its own expression of what it needs to hear. And I'm thankful that I have mine. [Laughs] I'm ancient, I've been there and watched this whole transitional phase. But you've still got cats who are writing some marvelous things like Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sondheim is still around, writing marvelous stuff, and they're still praising Duke Ellington and Mercer and all of those greats. So there's still the foundation. But I certainly celebrate and appreciate the rockers that come along and put their spin on it.