MenAlive - The Orange County Gay Men's Chorus will once again be presenting its Annual Benefit and Community Awards Gala called ACADEMY AFFAIR on Saturday February 23 at the posh Center Club, located at the Garden Level of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. At this year's elegant, black-tie optional event , the chorus will be joined by Special Guest Star Tony Award-winner Ben Vereen.
A legend of stage and screen worldwide for over 40 years (and counting), Mr. Vereen is well-known not only for his iconic role as Chicken George in the groundbreaking television mini-series Roots, but also for his outstanding body of work on the Broadway stage, where he has collaborated with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz, and, of course, the inimitable Bob Fosse.
He earned his first Tony nomination playing Judas Iscariot in the original company of JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR in 1972, then a year later won the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical as the Leading Player in PIPPIN. His other notable stage roles include parts in SWEET CHARITY, HAIR, JELLY'S LAST JAM, GRIND, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, CHICAGO and FOSSE. Most recently, Mr. Vereen donned his emerald best playing the Wonderful Wizard of Oz in the hit musical WICKED.
Aside from his work in movies, television, and on the stage---which include musicals, plays, and well-received cabaret concerts---Mr. Vereen has also contributed his time and energy in several humanitarian and advocacy causes, as well as the lecture circuit. His topics range from overcoming adversity, arts in education, Black history, motivational topics, recovery through physical and occupational therapy and the importance of continuing education---just to name a few.
Last year, this timeless, versatile entertainer---who, by the way, is godfather to R&B star Usher---was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame. Later, he brought his one-man show Steppin' Out with Ben Vereen to 54 Below, and earned heaps of expected praises.
Before Mr. Vereen arrived in Orange County to perform at the Benefit, he spoke with West Coast Contributing Editor Michael Lawrence Quintos about his blessed life and expansive career in the theater.
Hello, Mr. Vereen! This coming Saturday, February 23, you'll be performing here in Orange County, for the ACADEMY AFFAIR Gala Benefit for MenAlive...
Yes! I'm glad they're called MenAlive! It sounds better than Men-Dead! [Laughs] And, yes, I'm excited about it! My good friend Liza Minnelli just did a show with them [this past December], and raved about performing with them! So I'm looking forward to working with them myself.
Great! Can you tell our readers a little bit about what your set is going to be like?
It's going to be wonderful! I'll be singing some songs from Broadway and reminisce about the biz which I look forward to combining.
Wonderful! Now, over the years, you've worked with some of the world's best writers, composers, and choreographers on the stage. What is it about musical theater that keeps you coming back to it?
Oh, it's the art of it! I believe that life itself is an art form, and as I've been part of the performing arts, I have had the opportunity to reflect back to society the things that make them feel good and give them information. Why do I love musical theater and why do I keep coming back to it? Well, because it's me! It's like... why do you write?
Well, for me, it's because writing my thoughts down is enjoyable and...
Well, it's more than enjoyable! See, what you're doing... you're writing down your art in the form of words. You're able to give your thoughts and emotions to people that they can hold onto for the rest of their lives. You're important! You're an art form just by expressing yourself through the arts! That's what I do and that's what everybody on this planet does... mine just happens to be in the performing arts. As it says in the Bible, "In the beginning, God created..." It did not say, "In the beginning, God manufactured..." So, therefore, we are all created as expressions of a divine Creator! And what I do, is to express it through the arts---the performing arts. That's why I love it... I love it, man! [Laughs]