Album:Pippin: Original Cast Album
Though he has had success in films and TV, Ben Vereen started out on Broadway and won a Tony award for his role as Leading Player in the Stephen Schwartz show Pippin. He was born Oct. 10, 1946 in Miami and he grew up in Brooklyn, NY. Vereen was adopted but he didn't know that when he was a child. His dad was a church deacon so Vereen grew up in the church choir. He attended New York's High School for the Performing Arts. Vereen took odd jobs while trying to get established on Broadway. His big break came when Bob Fosse hired him for the touring company of Sweet Charity. Vereen also appeared in the 1969 film. He appeared in Hair and he was understudy for Sammy Davis Jr. in the London production of Golden Boy. Then he was nominated for a Tony for playing Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. Pippin was Stephen Schwartz's first Broadway musical. If you're wondering about Godspell, that was off-Broadway. Like Godspell, Pippin is an ancient tale told in a modern setting. Motown financed the production. The title character Pippin was played by actor John Rubenstein. Bob Fosse choreographed the show so he already knew Vereen. The show was a huge success and Vereen won a Tony award. It led him to films and TV. Vereen appeared in the 1975 film Funny Lady and Bob Fosse's 1979 film All That Jazz. But his biggest success was as Chicken George in the 1977 landmark mini series Roots. Vereen was nominated for an Emmy. He also hosted a brief variety series on NBC. And he recorded two albums in the mid-70s with producers Bert DeCoteaux and Tony Silvester on Buddah Records which have never been released on CD. Those two guys were hotshot producers in the 70s. He continued to appear on TV in the 80s including a 1981 TV production of Pippin. Vereen was a regular on the sitcom Webster. But mostly he has done guest shots on episodic TV and appear in occasional films. After he was nearly killed in a 1992 car accident, Vereen returned to Broadway in the musical Jelly's Last Jam. Today he still does TV guest shots on shows like How I Met Your Mother and Hot In Cleveland. He also released a live CD in 2010 on Ghostlight, a Broadway specialty label. Here's Ben Vereen performing Glory in the 1981 TV production of Pippin. This is available on DVD.