Thursday, February 21, 2013

cabaret review BEN VEREEN, McCarter Theatre, Feb 11

Ben Vereen is so grateful for what he's been allowed to do on stage and screen and that joy he feels pours out from him in his concerts.  Now in his mid sixties, Vereen has been through a lot, including a pretty horrific accident where he was walking on a street and hit by a car.  And while his voice may has lost some of the luster it once had, Vereen has such a nice personable connection with the audience that it outweighs any vocal issues he has to deal with.   His recent concert at the McCarter Theatre was a magical evening of story and song.

While the majority of his concert was included in the live cd he released in the Spring of 2011 (which I reviewed here) there were plenty of other material that wasn't on that cd, so I'll focus on talking about the material that I already didn't speak of in that review.

His connection with two composers, Stephen Schwartz and Andrew Lloyd Webber goes back to his early days on Broadway when he appeared in the original casts of Schwartz's Pippin and Lloyd Webber's Jesus Christ Superstar.  His medley of songs from those shows was nice but what I thought was even better were two songs from Wicked that he performed in slightly slower versions to really focus on the lyrics "Defying Gravity" and "For Good."   Both became personal stories for him much like Lloyd Webber's "Memory" from Cats set up the entire section about his past.

His connection to Bob Fosse, in both Pippin and the film All That Jazz was also brought center stage with Vereen talking about how electric Fosse was and how honored he was to have been included in not only Pippin but the film that basically was an autobiographical detail of Fosse's life.  Other highlights include a lovely Frank Sinatra medley and a section devoted to Sammy Davis Jr. where Vereen mentions how he was his understudy when the musical Golden Boy went to London and how connected he felt to Sammy and how Sinatra broke down racial barriers for him.

While the majority of the Sinatra and Davis, Jr material is on the cd I mentioned above, there was still plenty more that wasn't.  Vereen had a top notch trio playing with him and he did a lovely job in spotlighting them that included solos for each of them including a smashing "Misty" and a lovely "Your Song." 

The song "Here's To Us" has become something of a staple for performers in the AARP demographic with both Barbra Streisand singing it during her recent concert tour and Barbara Cook performing it at the concert we saw her perform last Fall.  Vereen somehow manages to make the song his own due to the stories he tells throughout his show and the ups and downs he documents for us.  It was a lovely end to a lovely evening.

"Simple Joys" from Pippin -

"Pure Imagination" from The Muppet Show:

No comments:

Post a Comment