A Visit from Ben Vereen

Dancer, actor, and Tony Award winner, Ben Vereen visited Manhattan College on Feb. 11th to participate in the celebration of Black History Month.

Students, faculty and even some lucky residents of the Methodist Nursing Home flocked to the Commons to get a chance to hear Vereen share stories of his career and his perspective about Black History Month.

MC Associate Professor Dr. Mark Pottinger, the chair of the Visual and Performing Arts department, led a question and answer session with Vereen covering topics ranging from his time playing Judas in Jesus Christ Super Star to the untimely death of his daughter.

Referring to the theme of Black History Month, Vereen discussed his part in Roots (1977), the most famous miniseries in television history, which was about the history of African Americans in the U.S. He explained how was able to be authentic with his black identity while playing the part of “Chicken” George Moore.

Vereen also expressed how he broke the boundaries that went outside mainstream Broadway. He played an African American Jew in Pippin, a part especially created for him which landed him a Tony award for Best Actor in a Musical. He also shared about a time when he wanted to play a Jet in West Side story but was shut down because he couldn’t pass as Polish.

He shared about the excitement when he was a Tony nominee in 1973 for his performance in Pippin. Upon finding out about the nomination, Ben jokingly said, “I’m a kid from Brooklyn, who’s Tony?” Following his Tony win, Vereen says, “It’s been a party ever since.”

Vereen also shared some insights about being a minority in the show business. He explained how his audiences have learned to look beyond the color of his skin and they are able to see the part he is playing, whether a man with Parkinson’s or a dysfunctional alcoholic father.

During his talk, Vereen also talked about his faith. He discussed how everyone on Earth has different color skin, “but to God, we are all beautiful flowers that make up a beautiful bouquet.”

The audience got a chance to ask some questions. One student asked Vereen how to become successful as a person of color. Vereen responded by saying, “Don’t follow your color, follow your passion.”

Another student asked how to get into the business, and Vereen responded by saying, “Don’t be discouraged, be encouraged.”

Freshman business major, Meghan Marron, said she took away some powerful advice which was, “to be yourself and not let any of your obstacles bring you down; it’s just going to make you stronger in the end.”

Christine Nolan, a junior advertising major with a minor in theater and who has also performed with the Players at MC shared, “I missed class to come here because it is my passion. I want to produce on Broadway, so getting to meet industry professionals like him who have made it is really awesome.”

The audience of faculty and students as well as the visitors from the Methodist Nursing Home, were left inspired by Vereen’s powerful words and insights about Black History Month.