An icon of the stage and screen, Ben Vereen came to national attention on TV hits like Roots, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air after his Broadway breakout in Pippin and Hair. Nowadays, Vereen is making appearances on modern hits, like Star and the relaunched Magnum P.I., between tour dates and creative projects. On December 2, the acclaimed entertainer is making his way to The Ridgefield Playhouse, where he will take the stage for an evening of holiday hits. We caught up with the 72-year-old renaissance man to get a sense of what he’s been up to.
Tell us about your Steppin’ Out for the Holidays tour.
It’s to celebrate the past year and the coming year, but mainly it’s a celebration of the holidays, because we really need more celebration right now. I will share some songs [the audience] is familiar with, and we’re just going to be having a good time. I’ll be singing Christmas songs; I’ll be singing songs from Broadway — and also Hanukkah. I need to sing my Hebrew songs! Do I sound excited? I’m excited!
What motivated the creation of your foundation, Wellness Through the Arts?
I believe that the arts are the foundation of our existence. They are an expression of people’s desires, wants, and dreams. We must embrace that as a nation, and a world, to bring forth the things that we need to make our lives better. I noticed the arts were being cut from schools, so I formed an organization called Wellness Through the Arts. The idea was to reach those kids who did not have the arts in their schools. Students can write a two-page essay on bullying, obesity, or whatever they’re going though, and I take five of those essays to a performing-arts school. Then [the winners] get to come to the show, get a $500 scholarship toward their education, and more importantly, they get to see their words in action.
What compels you to dedicate so much of your life to others?
I’m a dreamer. I believe that war will cease, poverty will cease, homelessness will cease. All these things that are holding us down and pulling us back from our glory will be gone because we will someday be each other’s keepers. So, I give back in order to continue that legacy, if I may, because somebody did it for me. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have the people who were around me from a young age, or in my career, who said, ‘We’re with you.’ My audiences are also why I give back. My audiences take time out of their lives to come watch me. I’ve got to give back. That’s just who I am.