Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review: An Evening with Ben Vereen at Hartford Stage


Always an Electrifying Entertainer
By Lauren Yarger
Ben Vereen joked that he shouldn’t be part of the Hartford Stage’s summer Broadway Legends series because legends are dead and he’s very much alive. No one attending An Evening with Ben Vereen through Sunday at Kingswood Oxford’s Robert Auditorium could hardly think otherwise.

Vereen, star of shows like Sweet Charity, Pippin and Jelly’s Last Jam, just to name a few, sings and dances his way through a variety of numbers from Broadway shows and pays tribute to two “real” legends, Frank Sinatra and Sammie Davis, Jr. in the 90-minute showcase.

He splices some personal history, like how his first role was as the king in an elementary school production of The King & I and how nerve-wracking his first audition for legendary director Bob Fosse was with humor, some dance and lots of songs.

Performing such classics as “Corner of the Sky,” “Hair,” Defying Gravity” and “I Have Dreamed,” Vereen puts his own unique spin on each. His medley of “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” is moving and excitingly rendered. In fact the night is practically non-stop entertainment.

Toward the end, he focuses on the songs that made Sinatra and Davis famous, and spends some time giving his four-man band, which includes son, Aaron on percussion, some time in the spotlight.

Vereen’s performances benefit SOS (Support Our Soldiers) and Diabetes Type 2, two organizations he supports. A live concert recording of the performance, with an anticipated release date of late 2010, was made Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Vereen’s performances conclude the summer Broadway Legends series which also included Elaine Stritch and Chita Rivera.

Tickets for An Evening with Ben Vereen may be purchased by calling the box office at 860-527-5151 or by visiting http://www.hartfordstage.org/ for more information. The show is presented at Kingswood Oxford while the theater’s Hartford location is being renovated.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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