Near the end of his concert last October at the Richmond Hill Centre for the Performing Arts, Vereen took a moment to tell the audience just how much Canada meant to him. He said Toronto’s Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel was one of the first venues he played as a young song and dance man before he burst onto the Great White Way as Judas in the original Broadway production of Jesus Christ Superstar. It was a performance that earned him a Tony Award nomination.
That’s why his slip of the lip Sunday night, calling our country’s greatest classical theatre the Stanford Shakespeare Festival was so ironic and so unfortunate.
Vereen and Stratford’s Des McAnuff: Close friendship and professional relationship
He’s close friends with Stratford’s artistic director Des McAnuff. Earlier that evening on the red carpet, he and the star of TV’s “Big Bang Theory,” Jim Parsons (who opened on Broadway as the star of Harvey in May), had a long and animated conversation as they entered the Beacon Theater.
Vereen Receives Rave Reviews for Fetch Clay, Make Man
And in January 2010, McAnuff directed Ben Vereen in the critically acclaimed play by Will Power titled Fetch Clay, Make Man. Vereen received popular and critical raves for his sensational portrayal of Stepin Fetchit, Hollywood’s racist stereotype of a lazy and stupid black man, who meets black pride advocate Muhammed Ali on the eve of his bout with Sonny Liston.
Obviously, Vereen knows the Stratford Festival Theatre. But difficulty with the teleprompter caused his gaffe during Sunday night’s Tony Awards as he introduced the company from Stratford’s current Broadway production of Jesus Christ, Superstar, performing the title number featuring its Tony nominee Josh Young as Judas.
It’s likely there was no one more upset than Vereen.
In last October’s show, he reminisced about his near-fatal accident in 1992 when he was struck by a car in the middle of the night while he was wandering the centre of L.A.’s Malibu highway. The driver was Canadian-born music producer David Foster.
“No one saw the accident,” Vereen reminisced. “Anyone else would have just driven away. But David Foster, a Canadian, knelt down beside me and immediately called the emergency services and comforted me until they came.”
Following near-fatal accident, Vereen underwent months of physical therapy and rehabilitation
Vereen’s critical injuries were horrendous, including a broken leg. In the months to come, he underwent arduous physical therapy and rehabilitation. But he never forgot Foster’s kindness.
“To this day, whenever David sees me, he asks me when I am going to sue him,” Vereen joked.
Vereen and his salute to Canadians
Reminiscing about the Imperial Room and Foster led him to his final number, which he dedicated to everyone in the theatre as representatives of Canadians everywhere. The song was “For Good,” from the hit musical, Wicked.
With the lights up, he tenderly and powerfully sang as he gently and slowly looked into the eyes of as many members of the audience as he could…
“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better,
And because I knew you…I have been changed…
For good …”