Ben Vereen deserves nothing but rave reviews.
What other showman his age (32) can captivate an audience with such a dazzling combination of singing, dancing, patomiming and silly banter? Ben Vereen is more than a song and dance man - he's a popular phenomenon.
At Wolf Trap last night he took 4,800 people, restless from sitting through an opening-act jazz performance, and wrapped them around his creative finger with 75 minutes of musical fireworks. He sang standards from Broadway's golden age, offered a medley from recent Broadway fare like "Pippin," "Hair" and "Jesus Christ Superstar," and performed a frenetic disco dance.
Vereen raced up and down aisles, talking with people and performing, even going back as far as the lawn seats and inviting people to take snapshots of him ("Come close, honey. Don't take my picture back there. I'll come out looking like a Tootsie Roll"). He even danced onstage with a woman from the audience.
Each Vereen performance is a tour of many cultures - and last night's was no different. After recalling Etta James, a black American singer popular in the 1950s, he sang "At Last" the way she used to moan it. Soon afterwards he was evoking South Africa in a rhythmic boot dance. And he brought the audience to its feet with "Sim Shalom," an Israeli song celebrating peace, togetherness and joy.
It was a superb performance, of which the only detraction was that Vereen, who's master, did not dance enough.
Saxophonist Nick Brignola, who opened the show, deserved better treatment. The talkative and restless audience apparently wasn't in the mood for his hard bop brand of jazz. Nevertheless he played several Duke Ellington pieces with an attractively craggy and muscular tone.