A retrospective of his 40-plus years in the entertainment business, Vereen said he conceived of the idea when he sat down and tried to figure out how to express gratitude to the audiences that have supported his performances over nearly a half-century.
“I started working on this show some years ago,” Vereen said. “I wanted to do a tribute to the journey all these audiences have allowed me, and all the people I’ve worked with. I tried to answer the question, ‘How do you say thank you?’”
The show, which features song-and-dance routines showcasing the numerous collaborations Vereen has had over the years with such greats as Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra, is the prototype for a bigger show for which he’s going into development in April. In trying to narrow his vast experience and collaborations down into less than three hours, Vereen said he had to make some tough decisions. After all, more than four decades of prolific work doesn’t easily fit into one evening.
“There was such a plethora, I had to decide which ones will tell the story,” he said. “It was very difficult, and going forward [with the bigger show], there will be more included.”
At 66, Vereen shows no signs of slowing his high-energy lifestyle, which he says is “a blessing.”
“It’s an opportunity to do what we do, and we’ve been blessed to be able to perform,” he said. “It’s not a matter of energy, it’s a matter of waking up. The idea is to show up, the rest takes care of itself. I love what I do. I can’t wait to get on the stage.”
Asked which performance art form he prefers — dancing, singing or acting — he said simply, “I prefer employment,” and if he had his way, no artist would be a starving one.
“Arts are the one thing that will carry us through this seeming recession,” he said. “It is the pulse of arts that gives us our breath. We’ve simply got to support them.”
“Steppin’ Out with Ben Vereen” will be on stage at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre from Friday, March 29 through Sunday, March 31. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, visit www.lajollaplayhouse.org/ben-vereen or call (858) 550-1010.