Ben Vereen: Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen

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Ben Vereen

Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, November 22, 2017

Reviewed by Peter Haas for Cabaret Scenes

Ben Vereen

With a broad smile that outshone the lights of nearby Broadway, Ben Vereen—singing, dancing, and acting star of stage, film, and television, heralded by The New York Times as “an old-school song and dance man”—returned to Feinstein’s/54 Below with four evenings of stories and songs illuminating his sparkling career.

This trip, the dancing was absent: Vereen, now in his 70s, had recently undergone back surgery and, still in rehab, came on-stage with the help of a cane, then presided and performed while seated on a chair. Nevertheless, his warmth, bright smile, and energy were front and center as he sang, reminisced, and introduced his talented guests.

Vereen himself led the festivities with several songs from the repertoire of Sammy Davis, Jr.: “The Candy Man” and “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” both by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley; “Birth of the Blues,” and “Mr. Bojangles.” Next up: the evening’s first guest performer, Lee England, Jr., a young jazz violinist whom Vereen had discovered performing on the streets.
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His number: “Sweet Love.” A second guest joined the music-making: Nita Whitaker, who had been a Star Search winner, and who gave a gospel touch to “Climb Ev’ry Mountain,” bringing cheers from the audience for her high notes. She followed up with a plea to the audience to “get up and stand up” to support the arts”; much of the audience did just that, rising at their tables and literally dancing in the aisles.

Still another guest quickly followed: jazz violinist Jesse Lenat, playing a solo of “Sneaky Pete,” after which the spotlight returned to Vereen as he sang “What a Wonderful World” and, from Wicked, “For Good.” The whole group assembled for a strong finish with “I’m Going to Build My Whole World Around You.”

If you missed Ben Vereen this time around, you’ve got another chance. Look for his return to Feinstein’s/54 Below in late January.
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Peter Haas

Writer, editor, lyricist and banjo plunker, Peter Haas has been contributing features and performance reviews for Cabaret Scenes since the magazine’s infancy. As a young folk-singer, he co-starred on Channel 13’s first children’s series, Once Upon a Day; wrote scripts, lyrics and performed on Pickwick Records’ children’s albums, and co-starred on the folk album, All Day Singing. In a corporate career, Peter managed editorial functions for CBS Records and McGraw-Hill, and today writes for a stable of business magazines. An ASCAP Award-winning lyricist, his work has been performed at Carnegie Hall, Feinstein’s, Metropolitan Room and other fine saloons.