The last time Utah audiences saw singer/dancer/actor Ben Vereen, in the summer of 1996, he was in a wheelchair, the result of a near-fatal car crash.
He was also on stage with the Utah Symphony, singing and yes, dancing - after a fashion.Utahns now have another chance to see Vereen, (sans wheelchair). He will appear with the Utah Symphony to open its pops series Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10 and 11, at Abravanel Hall.
The entertainer has appeared many times on Broadway in such plays and musicals as "Sweet Charity," "Hair," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "I'm Not Rappaport" and as the lead in "Pippin," for which he won a Tony and a Drama Desk Award. He has also appeared in many television series and specials, has a one-man show that earned him three different awards from the American Guild of Variety Artists in a single year (the first person to do so), and is a popular lecturer.
Beside the word "versatile" in the dictionary appears a picture of Ben Vereen.
The man is nothing if not intense. Well-known for his enthusiastic portrayal of whatever dramatic or comedic role he inhabits, he has not limited himself to musicals, acting in dramas such as TV's "Roots" and carrying on numerous humanitarian activities.
The latter has earned Vereen honors such as the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanitarian Award, Israel's Humanitarian Award and the NAACP Image Award (twice), as well as various honorary doctorates.
Vereen will take over the second half of next weekend's concerts with his combo (guitar, bass, saxophone and drummer), accompanied by the orchestra. This, in Utah Symphony spokesman Kwin Peterson's words, will be his exact program:
"Dunno - he hasn't told us yet."
Peterson did say Vereen will likely include numbers from some of his better-known Broadway productions, though exactly which songs from which productions is anybody's guess. He will announce his program from the stage. (By that time, presumably, orchestra members will know what's coming. They're accompanying him, after all.)
Before the intermission, acting associate conductor Bruce Hangen will lead the orchestra in five lusty, popular pieces, guaranteed to get the blood moving: "Prelude to Die Meistersinger" (Wagner), "Bacchanale," from "Samson and Delilah" (Saint-Saens), "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," from "Orfeo ed Euridice" (Gluck), "Dance Boheme," from "Carmen, Suite No. 2" (Bizet/Hoffman), and the "Carousel Waltz," from "Carousel" (Rodgers).
Utah Symphony audiences already heard "Prelude to Die Meistersinger" in the orchestra's season opener a few weeks ago, though the others are new this season.
Hangen's appointment is for a year. He is involved as music director or otherwise with orchestras and opera companies around the United States.
In all, next weekend's concerts will comprise nothing too serious. Nothing too heavy. In the pops tradition, it will all be in fun.
And to finish off the high-spirited nature of things, Vereen will celebrate his own birthday Friday by entertaining Utahns.
How old, you ask?
Well, doggone it, let's let the man keep something private.
If you really want to know, however, show up to Friday's concert. In addition to being treated to a solid, lighthearted evening of entertainment, maybe you'll hear Vereen spill the beans himself.