The name Ben Vereen, evokes nearly a lifetime of fond memories due to his commanding Leading Player on the original cast album of Pippin and his anguished Judas Iscariot on the original cast album for Jesus Christ Superstar. Beyond Broadway, Tony-winning Vereen continued to remain in the limelight throughout the years by guest-starring in popular television shows like Webster, How I Met Your Mother, and Grey's Anatomy. Now, Vereen materializes in a poof of smoke on the Pasadena Playhouse stage as the Genie for the Lythgoe Family's latest Panto, Aladdin and His Winter Wish.
Aladdin is a Panto?
I've never done a Panto [short for pantomime theater which mixes music, theater, dance and improvisation]. There's not much Panto in this country. It's mostly in England. What's so interesting [about it] is the audience participation… Christmas has turned into such a materialistic thing. It's great when something captures the essence of the holiday and gives kids the true spirit of Christmas. And I love doing things for the kids.
What is your role in Aladdin?
I get to play the Genie. Everyone wants the magical lamp and I'm the magical guy. The score is filled with songs everyone knows, contemporary rock and traditional. This is fantasy, craziness; the kids in the audience get to be involved in the show. They break the fourth wall. Everyone has a great time.
Do you have intentions to do further work at the Playhouse?
I would love to direct a production, [musical or drama]. I …[spoke] with Sheldon Epps [the artistic director] about doing something…I'm thinking about [reviving] Hair or A Streetcar Named Desire, but I'm not sure what will manifest. It's such a beautiful theater. I want to thank Pasadena for supporting the arts. The arts are our culture. Any civilization without culture is no civilization at all.
Did you get a chance to see the new production of Pippin?
I'm so glad that Pippin is back. It is not my play, not the play that we did 500 years ago [actually in 1972]. This is Pippin today…It's a wonderful circus. This is their Pippin.
Do you have any advice for children starting out in the theater?
I would tell them, hang onto your dream that brought you to the theater in the first place. The desire is a great calling. You should feel that you MUST do this. You should be true to it, not to the bells and whistles and fringes. Hold on the source, which is YOU. And bring it to us, the audience, because that is gold.