Again the Adelaide Cabaret Festival has been delighted and entertained by a Broadway legend. Last year was the irresistible Chita Rivera, this year, the amazing Ben Vereen. In his illustrious career, spanning nearly 50 years, Vereen has done it all.
In his cabaret show, Steppin Out, Vereen musically relives his tremendous life journey and the audience at the Festival Theatre thoroughly enjoys the result. From his early days, graduating from Manhattan’s High School of Performing Arts (yes, the Fame school), through his early Broadway days (in the original Hair), to his Tony Award winning best (in Jesus Christ Superstar and Pippin) and beyond. What a career.
The music of the night perfectly depicts Vereen’s diverse career. The early years are fondly remembered with wonderfully arranged musical medlies. Vereen pays tribute to his close friends and mentors, from the legendary director Bob Fosse to Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr., and his rendition of ‘My Way’ was extremely moving.
The music of Wicked is always amazing, but hearing Ben Vereen’s version of ‘Defying Gravity’ and in ‘For Good’ brought the music to another level of exciting. His hauntingly light falsetto is wonderfully controlled and the perfect vehicle to convey immense emotion.
At 65 years of age, Vereen can still move. Despite a life-threatening car accident and heart attack (on the same day in 1992) he gracefully moves around the stage, perhaps with a little less vigor than in his heyday. The interaction with his son on djembe drum was lively, and their duet ‘Over The Rainbow’ is a hit.
Vereen’s band, an 11-piece ensemble, wonderfully compliments the star of the show. At times early in the show there were slight balance issues between band and Vereen, but these were quickly sorted.
Ben Vereen’s two act show, Steppin Out, was a mesmerising mixture of jazz and theatre. My only criticism: why was there only one show!? I certainly hope that the pattern of showcasing Broadway legends continues at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Who will dazzle us next year?!