Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, November 23, 2016
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
After forgetting a lyric in his most recent show, Ben Vereen turned to the audience and quipped, “I can do that. I’m 70.” While meant as a joke, his work in this untitled piece proved its validity without a doubt and, while no shock, Vereen’s still got it.
Indeed, at age 70, Vereen can still hold the audience in the palm of his hand, commanding the room with a playful reign. He drips with so much performance style—a finger flick, a raised eyebrow, a slight hip swivel—it’s a wonder he doesn’t bottle it and make a mint. Yet his personalized stamp is more of a physical extension of his song interpretation and, working with a full percussion section (Marc Dicciani on drums along with the magnificent Aaron Vereen on percussion), his punctuated vocal delivery and organic movement expression only shine that much brighter.
Here he tackles those iconic greats—Sinatra, Davis, Garland, Armstrong and Aznavour—yet makes each piece intensely personalized with his undeniable commitment. Whether with “I Didn’t See the Time Go By” (Charles Aznavour/Herbert Kretzmer), “My Way” (Claude Francois/Jacques Revaux/Paul Anka) or “What a Wonderful World” (Bob Thiele/George David Weiss), Vereen masterfully underplays the heartbreak and inherent nostalgia, instead opting for a clownish smile. This sly countenance is so deceptive that, when the true sentiment of these pieces creep in, it’s a switcheroo worthy of the “Most Wanted” list.
Yes, his timbre has gotten thinner, but Vereen is a supreme star, most obvious in his now signature “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” (Ray Henderson/Lew Brown). While eschewing conscious messaging until a series of encores, his lighthearted dynamic now turned into his thematic directive—“Live and laugh at it all.” And, with 70 years of experience, this audience found themselves firm believers.