Northeast Times

For Ben Vereen, every role is his favorite

Start­Frag­ment

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.” ••

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