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Interview with Legendary Performer and Actor Ben Vereen

by Kevin Ketchum

Performing June 2nd at The Arcada Theatre

Ben Vereen is currently touring his one man show, Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen, dazzling audiences throughout the United States.  Ben’s show is a unique blend of artistry, combining a tribute to Broadway, Frank Sinatra, and a very special tribute to Sammy Davis Jr.  Featuring songs such as “Defying Gravity,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “For Good” from Wicked and “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen is a contemporary and timeless journey through the Broadway songbook. Ben promises an evening of song and dance, filled with entertainment and laughter, stories and inspiration!

Get your tickets at http://bit.ly/arcadablast

Fox Valley Magazine:  Was the production of “All That Jazz” with choreographer Bob Fosse your first big break?

Ben Vereen: No, PRODIGAL SON written by Langston Hughes and directed by Vinnette Carrol was.  Langston was one of our poets of the Harlem Renaissance and our children should know this.  

Fox Valley Magazine:  How was it to work with him and what did he mean to your career?

Ben Vereen: Brilliant – Bob Fosse was a genius, a mentor to greatness in everything he did including his personal life.

Fox Valley Magazine: You have made quite an impact on Broadway and still do as a very talented song and dance man. How did you also move into acting and obviously so successfully?

Ben Vereen: Art is Art and if you are open to it, it will guide to you in the direction you want to go.

Fox Valley Magazine: How much fun was it playing Dr. Scott in the Rocky Horror Picture Show, a part you were offered without ever having seen the original movie?

Ben Vereen: Working with the director, Kenny Ortega and the wonderful cast he assembled was a blast.  We had a ball, not to mention the outstanding crew.

Fox Valley Magazine: You appeared for six episodes in the Amazon series “Sneaky Pete.”  How much interaction during production did you have with the show’s creator and actor Bryan Cranston?

Ben Vereen: Bryan is a brilliant director and I trust him implicitly.   I appeared in 2 seasons of SNEAKY PETE.

Fox Valley Magazine: Known for your iconic role as Chicken George in Roots, the TV show Tenspeed and Brownshoe and more, are there any roles you passed on that you wish you hadn’t?

Ben Vereen: None

Fox Valley Magazine:  Why do you wear an Om and feather?

Ben Vereen: Om is the sound of vibrational tones of wholeness.  The feather is to remind me to keep my heart as light as a feather. 

Fox Valley Magazine:  Tell us about your Spiritual Enforcer line of clothes and what it benefits.

Ben Vereen: The purpose of the hats is to enforce and support our young people in the arts which if you have noticed is being taken away.  We must stand up for the arts and hold the line.

Fox Valley Magazine: You call Steppin’ Out your “Gratitude Show,” why is that?

Ben Vereen: I am grateful for each one of you to step out and share your evening with me.

Fox Valley Magazine:  Steppin’ Out pays homage to the Broadway songbook and you also pay tribute to Frank Sinatra and especially Sammy Davis Jr.  How much did they influence you and what was it like to hang out with them?

Ben Vereen:  I miss them.  They were the greatest – knowing Frank and Sammy was a blessing. They were my mentors.

Fox Valley Magazine: This show is also very autographical. What personal stories will you be sharing with the audience on June 2nd at The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles?

Ben Vereen: Come see my show.  I look forward to meeting you.

Photos by Isak Tiner.

Ben Vereen recently appeared in episodes of BULL and MAGNUM, P.I. both for CBS.  Last fall, Ben filmed five episodes on the TV series STAR for Fox and an episode of the BET Series TALES.  He can also be seen in the recurring role of PORTER on the AMAZON hit series SNEAKY PETE produced by Bryan Cranston.  Ben starred in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW for 20th Century FOX, in the feature film TIME OUT OF MIND starring Richard Gere and was featured in Chris Rock’s film TOP FIVE.  He is well known for his EMMY Award for his portrayal of CHICKEN GEORGE in ROOTS.  Ben won both the Tony and Drama Desk Award for his role as the leading player in PIPPIN. Last month, we had our first reading of his new Broadway musical, REFLECTIONS, directed by JOSH BERGASSE, written by JOE CALARCO, with music by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ.

Ben is an active member of AMERICANS FOR THE ARTS, which is the largest Arts Advocacy group in the US.  With Americans for the Arts, Ben spoke before congress in defense of the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as at the DNC. Ben continues to tour the country with his concert act and will be performing 8 shows at Jazz at Lincoln Center in April, backed by the Julliard Jazz Ensemble. He is also motivation speaker, lecturer, and teaches master classes at universities throughout the country.

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