Friday, April 1, 2011

cd review - Ben Vereen "Steppin' Out Live"

The 1977 tv mini series Roots was a historical moment in tv history.  Starring a virtual who's who of African American actors from that time, and obtaining unheard of ratings, it was also the first time I remember seeing  Ben Vereen.  He starred as Chicken George in the mini series that told of a slave family over a 100 year period.  His performance was electrifying.

I didn't know until much later that by the time he made Roots, Vereen had already appeared in several Broadway shows, including starring in Hair, as Judas in the original Broadway cast of Jesus Christ Superstar and as the Leading Player in Pippin, winning a Tony for his performance.

I saw Vereen in concert several years back, when he appeared with his Roots co-star Leslie Uggams in a tour where they each performed their solo acts and a couple of duets at the end.  He was extremely entertaining, still in good voice and had that theatrical edge that resonates with any Broadway fan.  I also saw him in a production of "I'm Not Rappaport" at the Paper Mill Playhouse.  He appeared in the show with Judd Hirsch and that production also then went on for a limited run on Broadway. 

So Vereen has had a long, varied career on Broadway, tv and film.  So imagine my surprise when I realized that Vereen's recent cd release, "Steppin' Out Live", is his first solo recording, recorded last Summer at his concert at the Hartford Stage in Connecticut.

The live recording perfectly captures the 64 year old Vereen in all his theatrical glory. Sure he can't hold some notes for as long as he used to, but the polish and delivery of the material are still in fine form and while it is nice to hear a medley of songs from the Broadway shows he performed in, it is equally nice to see the material he covers isn't all just his hits he delivered in the past but also includes newer songs like "Defying Gravity" from Wicked (which he performed the part of the Wizard in on Broadway for just under a year)

The cd is very entertaining, with nice jazzy arrangements delivered by a person who's middle name is "show biz"!


Songs include:
"With a Song In My Heart"
"Getting To Know You"
"Corner Of The Sky"/"Aquarius"/"Hair"/"Jesus Christ Superstar"/"I Don't Know How To Love Him"
"Defying Gravity"
"Frank Sinatra Medley" ("It Was A Very Good Year"/"I've Got You Under My Skin"/ "The Lady Is A Tramp"/"Come Fly With Me"/"My Kind Of Town, My Way")
"Once In A Lifetime"
"I Got A Lot Of Livin' To Do"
"That Old Black Magic"
"My Funny Valentine"
"Bewitched, Bothered & Bewildered"
"Mr. Bojangles"

Amazon link for Steppin Out Live cd - Steppin Out Live

Amazon link for dvd of Roots - Roots (Four-Disc 30th Anniversary Edition)

Amazon link for dvd of Fosse - Fosse

Amazon link for dvd of Pippin - Pippin

Ben Vereen and Company sing "Magic To Do" from the dvd of Pippin -

Singing "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries" from Fosse -

"Mr. Bojangles" from Fosse -

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