September 19, 2013 Updated: September 19, 2013 at 12:40 pm
Broadway great Ben Vereen was genuinely nice, doing what he has done hundreds upon hundreds of times during his 40-year career: mingling, having his photo taken with everyone who asked and, saving his voice, quietly chatting with arts patrons and benefactors at a reception the night before his performance earlier this month at a Fine Arts Center gala.
Many had seen him on Broadway and there were memories to share, particularly about his Tony-winning role in "Pippin." Others had enjoyed his television roles ("Roots," "How I Met Your Mother") and wanted personal time before they experienced "Steppin' Out Live with Ben Vereen."
The following night he wowed a gala audience of 330 with the musical, Bob Fosse-inspired-dancing story of his artistic life. Away from the gossip columnists and paparazzi of the two coasts, it was all about his art.
Little did people here know, or probably even care, but he's in the midst of a headline-making, messy divorce from his long-time wife and sleuths are digging into records to try to prove he's more than just singer Usher's godfather. Vereen survived the druggie years of the "Age of Aquarius," the death of his teenage daughter, his own serious brush with death in a traffic accident in the early 1990s and diabetes.
Always the performer, Vereen helped raise $120,000 for the Fine Arts Center, and had time to visit personal friends who live here. He might have also quietly visited his favorite local restaurants, one of which is Paravicini's Italian Bistro in Old Colorado City. He also taught a memorable master class for young thespians, much like when he coaches the Broadway Theatre Project.
Vereen, wearing his trademark Converse Chuck Taylor All-Stars, met with 75 guests at the reception hosted by Rich Murphy and gala co-chairs, the mother-daughter team of Kate and Carly Murphy.
Next up, the formal gala, which included cocktails in the Fine Arts Center Courtyard, dinner with courses by four caterers that was served in the art gallery, the Vereen performance and the evening closer, cocktails and music in the Deco Lounge.
FAC Director of Performing Arts Scott Levy garnered cheers as the evening's dramatic auctioneer, selling a theater weekend in New York City, dinner parties, a VIP experience at the December FAC performance of "The Wizard of Oz" and $8,000 Art Deco earrings. The only negative: The acoustics were such that his lively patter couldn't be understood by those in the back rows of the FAC theater.
Joining the Murphy team to put together the altogether successful event were Missy Burkett, Nerissa England, Kate and Peri Faricy, Carol Ferguson, Lynne Fitzhugh, Martha Marzolf, Jan McCauley, Jim Raughton, Mari Sinton-Martinez and Meredith Vaughn.