Ben Vereen: Steppin’ Out

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Ben Vereen

Steppin’ Out

Feinstein’s at the Nikko, San Francisco, CA, June 17, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Murray for Cabaret Scenes

Ben-Vereen-Cabaret-Scenes-Magazine_212Ben Vereen took to the stage singing “Magic to Do” from his Tony Award-winning role in Pippin. The lyrics beseech the listener to come along on a journey, where “We’ve got miracle plays to play/We’ve got parts to perform/ Hearts to warm.” And Vereen does just that, creating magic and taking his audience on a delightful ride through the highlights of his career peppered with intimate reminisces of friends and peers that helped shape the man.

Spry and sharp, Vereen still has the dancer’s spider sense, able to conjure a world of emotions in the roll of a shoulder or hip, techniques honed from his days working with the late, great Bob Fosse. A medley of songs from James Rado, Gerome Ragni and Galt MacDermot’s Hair (“Aquarius”/”Hair”) and Jesus Christ Superstar (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice) displayed Vereen’s still powerful tenor as well as his considerable acting chops.

From Wicked, in which he played the Wizard, Vereen sings the uplifting showstopper “Defying Gravity.” The song of self-assuredness and empowerment ends with the authoritative declaration that no one “is ever going to bring me down” and became a heartfelt tribute to the victims of the Orlando nightclub massacre. It was a powerful raw moment that was eagerly accepted by those of us still aching in our grief.

Singing the Charles Aznavour masterpiece “I Didn’t See the Time Go By” (English words by Herbert Kretzmer), Vereen extracts the lovely wistfulness of looking back on a life, not with regret, but with the realization of its fleeting nature.

Vereen honors those whose backs he stood on to achieve his great success, as in his tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr., arguably one of the greatest entertainers of our time. He performs “Mr. Bojangles” (Jerry Jeff Walker), again showing flashes of his great dance skills.


Vereen allowed his band members to shine on a medley of solos: Erroll Garner/Johnny Burke’s “Misty” with drummer Marc Dicciani, “My Funny Valentine” (Rodgers and Hart) with bassist Thomas Kennedy, and “At Last” (Harry Warren/ Mack Gordon) featuring pianist Dave Loeb. A unique interpretation of Harold Arlen/Yip Harburg’s “Over the Rainbow” was accompanied by conga player Aaron Vereen, Ben’s son.

Vereen’s enthusiasm is contagious, his talent undeniable. His career has certainly had its highs and deep lows, but today, at 69, he is back in stride, honoring his past and looking forward to enjoying his much deserved resurgence.

Steve Murray

Always interested in the arts, Steve was encouraged to begin producing and, in 1998, staged four, one-man vehicles starring San Francisco's most gifted performers. In 1999, he began the Viva Variety series, a live stage show with a threefold mission to highlight, support, and encourage gay and gay-friendly art in all the performance forms, to entertain and document the shows, and to contribute to the community by donating proceeds to local non-profits. The shows utilized the old variety show style popularized by his childhood idol Ed Sullivan. He’s produced over 150 successful shows, including parodies of Bette Davis’s gothic melodramedy Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Joan Crawford’s very awful Trog. He joined Cabaret Scenes 2007 and enjoys the writing and relationships he’s built with very talented performers.