Even at age 69, Ben Vereen is still steppin’ out and looking good. The beloved actor-singer-dancer, the originator of iconic musical theater roles like Leading Player in Pippin and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, is slipping on his soft shoes and tapping by The Grand 1894 Opera House in Galveston for a cool event called Steppin' Out Live.
“This is what I’m calling the Gratitude tour,” the showman says. “It’s an opportunity to thank all those people that’ve stuck with me these many years. People forget that us [performers] aren’t born into our field, our passion. It’s all because somebody said, ‘I like this guy; I like him and I want to see more of him.’ This is me saying thank you.” Vereen says his Galveston concert will feature the best of his past roles, and a few new tunes. “Everything you know me for, I’ll do a little bit. Superstar, Pippin, Wicked and hopefully a few things you don’t know so well. It’s about the things you pick up on the way, good stories and anecdotes. It’ll be an intimate evening.”
Vereen, far from content to sit on his past accomplishments, has even greener roles on the horizon. Next on deck, he’ll be going toe-to-toe with Laverne Cox in FOX’s Rocky Horror Picture Show remake,
taking on the role of rival scientist Dr. Everett von Scott. “Believe it or not, I had never seen the [original] film,” Vereen says. But after working with the original Frank-N-Furter, Tim Curry (who takes on the role of the Criminologist in the Halloween reboot), Vereen said he felt compelled to catch up on the cult classic. “Laverne Cox is wonderful,” he says of his co-star. “She’s paying such homage to [Tim], it’s gonna be exciting to see.”
Additionally, Vereen has signed on to play a multi-episode arc on the upcoming Bryan Cranston-produced Amazon comedy Sneaky Pete. On the idea of Internet television, Vereen says he’s all for it. “This all comes under one title: employment,” Vereen deadpans, stifling a laugh. “More work is more work, so I love it all.” Sneaky Pete joins a roster of the many impressive shows Vereen’s guested on, including The Carol Burnett Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Law and Order, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Grey’s Anatomy, NCIS, How I Met Your Mother and The Muppet Show.
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Vereen also has made a lifelong effort to use his artistic talents for good, through arts advocacy and charitable endeavors. “The idea behind Wellness Through the Arts (WTA) is to help stimulate arts programs in schools, programs that have been gradually cut away from,” Vereen says. “It’s up to us to [nurture] those minds, those geniuses of tomorrow.” The Tony winner also describes his essay program aimed specially at dealing with what he calls B.O.L.D. “That’s Bullying, Obesity, Low Self Esteem and Diabetes,” he says. Winners of that competition have their original essays adapted into five-minute plays and musicals, while the student receives $500 toward his or her education and the school gets $1,000. “This is all just to get more young people into the arts.”
Vereen himself says the arts changed his life, but not in the traditional way. “I didn’t see my first play until I was in it,” he rattles off with perfect timing. For the now 51-year veteran of stage and screen, the arts are almost spiritual. “When you’re able to tap into that part of life that is the total artistic expression of you, no matter what walk of life you’re from – arts can open up that door for you.”
For young artists-to-be, the actor reminds people to look inward for advice first. “The key is in you, the kingdom is in you,” Vereen preaches. “It’s human nature to doubt, doubt in yourself. But step out on faith – not religious faith, but inner faith – and let that kingdom open up portals of wonder. Do not be afraid in the night to stand bravely in the light.”
Performances are scheduled for September 24 at 8 p.m. at Grand 1894 Opera House at 2020 Post Office, Galveston. For information, call 409-765-1894 or visit thegrand.com. $30-$125