Ben Vereen at Feinstein’s/54 Below

 

ben-vereen

 

 

by Marilyn Lester

 

 

Preceding Ben Vereen’s dazzling entrance to the stage at Feinstein’s/54 Below, a short video montage of the actor-singer-dancer provides a small taste of this showbiz legend’s career – an effort scarcely necessary, for the moment Vereen appears and begins singing, volumes about him and his breadth of talent are automatically revealed. Starting with the tone-setting “Say Yes” and launching into a Broadway melody before returning to the opening number, it’s a surety that major entertainment will happen. “What a journey,” Vereen says, and it has been that, beginning in adolescence – across stage, screen and television with multiple awards and accolades – and encompassing extraordinary high-gear entertainment and humanitarian accomplishments.

 

Propelling forward with “The Joint Is Jumpin’” and “We Have All the Time in the World,” Vereen defines the word, “trouper.” He’s not only been performing nonstop for most of his life, but has lived through a wide swath of personal and social history, and survived a debilitating car accident in 1992 that might have put an end to a lesser man’s career. His “aura” and the amazing beauty of his face hide nothing. Living is etched on it and the effect is compelling. Now, at age 70, unavoidably the years have affected his vocal prowess and physicality, but the enthusiasm and verve is undiminished, as “Defying Gravity” would attest. Moreover, Vereen knows how to make the most of his current capabilities, and of course, produces an act with much polish and sophistication. Much of the show was personal, not in a theatrically confessional way, but designed well in subtleties, such as well-chosen narrative, song choices and in the highly particular way Vereen interprets lyrics, such as in “My Way,” “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” and “I Dreamed a Dream.”

 

Generosity of nature is also a feature of the Vereen show. He pays homage to Sinatra and other influencers of his career, especially Sammy Davis, Jr. In dedicating “Mr. Bojangles” to Davis, Vereen speaks of the continuity of history. “It’s important to know whose shoulders we stand on,” he says. With this, the growing suspicion that Vereen has become a preacher is confirmed. Yet, this “preaching” at a high level – mostly through his art and inherent personality in addition to words. He sings “Give a Little Love” and “For Good” and has the entire audience singing with him to a riff on Ben E. King’s hit, “Stand By Me” now repurposed into “Stand by the Arts.” He is generous to his gifted musicians: music director and pianist David Loeb, drummer Marc Dicciani, bassist Mike Boone and percussionist (and son) Aaron Vereen, who are each given a significant spotlight solo. For optimism, there is “What a Wonderful World” ending with a short and perfect Satchmo imitation, and “Over the Rainbow” (in a Glee-style arrangement). The show’s ending, “God Bless America,” has the audience on its feet and singing along, thankful and hopeful for the promise of good days to come.

 

Ben Vereen, November 21, 23, 26 at 7:00 PM and November 24-25 at 8:00 PM

Feinstein’s/54Below, 254 West 54th St., 646-476-3551, www.54below.com

 

 

 

 

 

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