Q&A: Ben Vereen is still steppin' out

Ben Vereen, who was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame earlier this week, will be at the Newman Center at 7:30 p.m tonight in a benefit for Rocky Mountain PBS. The show, titled "Steppin' Out With Ben Vereen," features the Tony Award winner and Broadway legend paying tribute to the music of Broadway, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Tickets, available at the Newman Center box office or online, range from $27.25 to $127.25; the $127.25 patron ticket includes a post-concert reception with Vereen.

We recently spoke with Vereen about tonight's show, his upcoming one-man show on Broadway and the Broadway Theatre Project, where Vereen is the artistic director.

Westword: What can we expect from your show in Denver?

Ben Vereen: Stepping Out Live with Ben Vereen is a takeoff on the CD I did called Stepping Out Live. It's a precursor to a Broadway show that I am getting ready to do called Tenacity, and it's a retrospective of my life in the theater, and I get to pay tribute to people that have touched my life and touched all of our lives. People like Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Fosse, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Maclaine. I pay tribute to them in song and dance, and also I talk about how arts affect my life, which is really important for the PBS to do something like this.

We support PBS because PBS is about supporting our life through the arts because we are an art form and that's our culture. So I encourage Denver to please come out and celebrate with us on February 3. Also, I'll be joined by a group called Circle of Light, who will be performing with me. I have my band who will also be there. It will be an evening of celebration for you there in the Rocky Mountains. So let's come out and celebrate.

Some of the people you're paying tribute to, like Sammy Davis Jr. and Sinatra, what kind of effect did they have on your life?

They've affected all of our lives. Being in the business, of course, it gave me the way to go. They've lifted us up and they've given us moments of great entertainment. A lot of our parents are fans of that music. People like Tom O'Horgan, they gave us Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair and Bob Fosse with Sweet Charity. They contributed to our lives through the arts, and they affected my life that way. I've been lucky enough to be with them and to call them friends. And now I want to share my friendship with you.

Some of the songs you'll be singing are from some of your more well-known performances, right?

Yes. There will be some songs from Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Wicked. Some Sinatra and, of course, "My Way." Sammy, of course, there will be "That Old Black Magic," "Bojangles" and songs like that, and a few surprises. It's going to be a wonderful evening. I'm excited!

I read you're developing a new one-man show for Broadway?

That's the one you're going to see when I come to Denver. It's a precursor to Tenacity.

When will that start on Broadway?

After we leave Denver, we're heading for Broadway in the end of July, and then we're going to close it down and then we'll put the other piece to it and bring it back to Broadway in the Fall. So you get a sneak preview of that show. You still seem really into performing. What is about it that makes you still want to keep doing it?

I get to share with the people. It's all about the people. It's about giving. It's about the sharing. I've been blessed to be able to do this with my life. I love it! I love being able to share. You do master classes and lectures, which seem like another way to share with people as well.

Exactly. I get into schools. I get to share with the people. Encourage them. Show them the diamond of life is within them. We talk about that and exercise on that and how to let that out and express itself.

Have you learned things yourself from giving lectures and workshops?

Oh, yeah. They teach me. The teacher gets a lesson. As a matter of fact, I have a group called BTP -- Broadway Theatre Project. You can go on broadwaytheatreproject.com and you can read all about it. We have a program from the end of June through the third week in July and what we do is we have an intensive. We bring in teachers from all over the United States and celebrities, and we ask kids to come on to audition to get there or they can just call to find out about it. It's an intensive on singing, dancing and acting. We give you tools on how to live life.

What are some of those tools?

It's one thing to sing and dance, but you also learn to live life. Sometimes you need a life coach. Sometimes you need to know your finances in this business. You need to know about who to go to when you have an injury, and what that's all about. So it's about all the aspects of the total person that isn't just singing, dancing and acting. We can do that, but what about living life?

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon

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