Don’t know when the slogan or ideology, “You can’t go home again,” became so deeply entrenched in our society, but it’s been proved incorrect on quite a few occasions. One of the latest incarnations transpired at Feinstein’s/54 Below this past week. Or was it?
Although not on one of the theater stages that occupy that stretch of real estate known as the Great White Way, Ben Vereen, albeit probably not to the levels of his skill sets in his prime, is still lithe, still in great voice, still spry and still fly. He ran the spot. Just as he’d done when he was in a Tony Award-nominated stint in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Best Featured Actor in a Musical, and did Tony Award-winning work in “Pippin,” 1973 Tony Award Best Actor in a Musical. The one-man show, dubbed “Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen,” allowed for Vereen to reveal his true character.
Onstage, while basking in the revelry of being one the best showmen in the history of entertainment, he lets the audience see and feel the journey that got him to this level. The fact that the work is still appreciated is the ultimate end gain.
“I call my tour the Gratitude Tour because I must thank the audience for allowing me to the opportunity do what I do for you,” Vareen said. The operative word being work. Dancing, acting and singing are all chores that are given full-time energy and attention.
Vereen recalled, “My dance teacher said to me in singing, you’re telling a story. In dance, you’re telling a story. In acting you’re telling a story. What is your interpretation of the story and how can you best convey it?”
This formula is applied time in time out, ensuring that a freshness and passion remains in every performance. That quality was spotted early on in Vareen’s career as he became a protégé of one Sammy Davis Jr. In fact, on a nationally televised appearance, Davis was quoted as giving the proverbial baton to Vereen to carry. While being an honor, it could also be a heavy burden. Vereen realized that and was willing to shoulder the load.
“The legacy that Sammy entrusted with me, I had to ensure that it remained pristine because of all it entails,” he said. “Take it to the beginning; God ‘created man.’ Not manufactured. Therefore, [we] all have aspects of that [which] has related us. We’re walking, talking art pieces. We can reflect through our art the joys and sorrows to raise awareness and eventually do something about it. It’s a reminder of how great we are and how we came through our adversity with a warrior spirit and we still stand, working together.”
The “baton” that Sammy Davis Jr. passed has in Vereen’s eyes, a worthy torchbearer. “I said I was going to take that baton as far as I can and I still have running,” he said. “But when I’m tired it goes to my godson, Usher Raymond. He’s an incredible singer and an exceptional performer period, and while we’re different I see a lot of myself in Usher. Where I do theater, he does arenas. His songs are different from mine, but we’re so much alike in terms of determination. We both want to find our absolute best and maintain that bar.”
Usher Raymond gets to display what that means this weekend as he headlines the star-studded lineup for HOT 97’s annual concert, Hot for the Holidays. Usher, T.I., and the Funk Master Flex, collective known as Flex & Friends featuring Fat Joe & Remy Ma, French Montana, Young M.A and PHresher, will join previously announced acts Travis Scott, Young Thug, Joey Bada$$, Jidenna and Kehlani at Prudential Center, Saturday, Dec. 3, for the biggest concert of the holiday season! Tickets are on sale now at Ticketmaster.com and the Prudential Center box office.
Over and out. Holla next week. Til then, enjoy the nightlife.