It’s been a while — way too long, in fact — since Ben Vereen was last on Broadway (he did a short stint in‘Wicked” a decade ago). But at least the 69-year-old Tony winner (best known for his commanding performance as the Leading Player in the 1972 musical “Pippin”) is still doing solo shows at nightclubs like Feinstein’s/54 Below, where he is now playing a return engagement.
Vereen does not technically dance (there’s no room for it on a small nightclub podium), but he never ceases to move, and he is always in full voice and and high spirits and bursting with emotionality and vitality. You don’t expect to find this kind of worked-up dramatic commitment at a nightclub show where servers are simultaneously handing out cocktail menus.
Backed by piano, drums and bass, he pulls material from the musicals he’s done in the past (including “Pippin,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Hair”), but the show primarily revolves around an aura of gratitude (to his predecessors in show business and his audiences) and a plea for arts education.
He pays tribute to his mentor and early champion Sammy Davis, Jr. (in a medley including “Candy Man” and “Bojangles”) and urges his patrons to support the performing arts. To the tune of “Stand By Me,” he tells everyone to “stand up for the arts.” At my performance, virtually everyone did as they were told and stood up.
Ben Vereen is at Feinstein’s/54 Below through Jan. 30, 254 W. 54th St., 54below.com