Ask multi-talented Ben Vereen if he has a favorite role, and he answers quickly.
“For me, employment stands out. Seriously though, I can’t name a single role or a single show as being my favorite. It’s like asking which of my children I like best. And no parent can answer that question. I love them all,” said Vereen, set to take the stage at Bristol Riverside Theatre on April 20 to 22.
At Bristol, the legendary performer will do a one-man show titled Steppin’ Out Live with Ben Vereen, a blend of artistry and a tribute to Broadway, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and others. The show will feature hit songs like Defying Gravity, My Way, Mr. Bojangles and Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries, among others.
“I’ll be sharing stories with the audience, fine tuning the show and then going on to New York, where ultimately,” the 66-year-old Vereen explained, “I hope to take it on to Broadway.”
Vereen is certainly no stranger to Broadway, having performed in some of the most notable Broadway productions of all time. A Tony and Drama Desk Award winner for his renowned performance in Bob Fosse’s Pippin, Vereen’s other Broadway credits include Wicked, I’m Not Rappaport, Chicago, Hair and Fosse.
He also appeared in Jelly’s Last Jam, Jesus Christ Superstar and A Christmas Carol.
Additionally, Vereen has performed in regional theaters, dramas, variety shows and television series, including one of the most highly-touted and enduring series of all time: Roots.
Vereen became a household name for his Emmy nominated performance as Chicken George in the legendary mini-series. And after all these years, who would have thought the series would still be alive and well?
“The series and my role was magnificent and something for which I will always be thankful,” Vereen said. “And today, 35 years later, we are still talking about it. I just did a show on Oprah looking at it and a documentary for PBS. At the time we did it, I don’t think any of us had any idea the impact it would have on civilization, But it’s still going strong thanks to a man named Alex Haley who wrote about things that had to be heard by the world.”
Born in Miami and raised in Brooklyn, Vereen knew he had talents but didn’t take the world of show business seriously until he enrolled at Manhattan’s High School of the Performing Arts.
Upon graduation, others began taking him seriously, too. And after decades in the business, receiving a variety of awards, including Entertainer of the Year, Rising Star, and Song and Dance Star Awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists, Vereen is still going strong.
His humanitarian awards include three NAACP Image Awards, an Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, and a Victory Award. Vereen was recently inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame.
When he’s not on stage, he is the spokesman for Start Taking Action Now (STAN), a national effort to help stop the mounting number of diabetics in America. Vereen, himself diagnosed with diabetes in 2007, is steadfast in his desire to help others through the disease.
“When I was diagnosed, I realized there were twenty-three million people living in America with diabetes, and six million at the time who didn’t know they had it,” he said. “Today, that number is twenty-six million, and Type II diabetes is on the rise. My goal is to help people understand they can live well with the disease if they will just take charge and make a few changes in their lives.”
With no plans to retire, Vereen likes quoting his godmother’s favorite saying: “When the Lord calls me, I want him to say, ‘My child, you didn’t rust out of life, you worked out of life.’ And that’s something that rubbed off on me.” ••
For times and ticket information, call 215-785-0100.