On May 19th, the Broadway community will gather to present the 2019 Chita Rivera Awards. The mission of the awards is “to promote and recognize dance and choreographic excellence on Broadway, Off-Broadway and in film.” Shows such as Ain’t Too Proud, The Prom and The Cher Show share multiple nominations along with films such as Mary Poppins Returns.
While I would love to celebrate this evening of excellence, I can’t and I won’t. Because hosting the awards is Ben Vereen.
It was just last year where this blog and the New York Daily News exposed Vereen’s incidents of sexual misconduct and other inappropriate behavior during a production of Hair he directed in 2015.
During rehearsals for the production, Vereen told an actress in front of the cast that her not "having children must make her feel worthless as a woman", just so she would emotionally respond in a scene. He did the same to a young man he perceived as gay by announcing to him in front the cast "Admit it. You like d*^k. You're a f*ggot."
After a rehearsal, he hugged an actress, pressed himself up against her and later texted her that night saying, “You felt sooo good tonight.”
Vereen also had a mandatory policy that all the actresses would have to kiss him on the lips when leaving rehearsals. One refused, which then led to a disciplinary conversation about how she wasn’t “opening herself up to love”.
Vereen also used his stature and position of power as director to sexually manipulate two female performers in the cast.
After the stories were published, Vereen issued an apology for his actions.
However, despite Vereen’s admission of wrongdoing and being one of the few theatre stars exposed in the #metoo wave, the Broadway industry worked very quickly to welcome him back into the fold. Less than six months later, he had deleted his apology on social media and was being welcomed backstage at shows like Once On This Island and walking red carpets at galas around town.
One of his most prominent returns was at the 2018 Chita Rivera Awards, where he presented an award just months after the story broke. This year, he’s hosting it. While his name doesn’t appear on the awards’ website, he is named as host in the latest press releases.
Some may think this is a sign of forgiveness. I find it inexcusable.
There has been a lot of discussion about how the entertainment industry should handle perpetrators of sexual misconduct. Some have said that permanent exile is unfair. Needless to say, I feel differently. By welcoming back these perpetrators and elevating them to the stature they used to abuse, invalidates their victims and sweeps the issue under the proverbial rug. For an industry that prides itself on being progressive, their efforts to cover up sexual misconduct is on par with corporations and the Catholic Church.
By having him host this ceremony, these awards are basically saying to the victims, “Sorry about what happened to you, but after all, he is Ben Vereen.”
I don’t call for boycotts often, but I am asking that all nominees decline their invitations to attend the ceremony until Ben Vereen steps down or is removed from hosting it. I am also asking that the public not purchase tickets or sponsor the event until Vereen steps down or is removed as host.
It is time for Broadway leadership to be reminded of the promises they made to support victims of sexual misconduct and stamp out this behavior in the future. While the powers-that-be want to ignore misdeeds and wrongdoing, the performers within the community are known for supporting one another and being true allies. I hope I’m not wrong in believing that.
If anyone wants to contact the award’s organizers, they are the NYC Dance Alliance Foundation and their contact info is:
Here are the nominees if anyone wants to reach out to them as well,
Warren Carlyle, Kiss Me Kate
Denis Jones, Tootsie
David Neumann, Hadestown
Casey Nicholaw, The Prom
Sergio Trujillo, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
Outstanding Male Dancer
Corbin Bleu, Kiss Me Kate
Rick Faugno, Kiss Me Kate
James T. Lane, Kiss Me Kate
Jeremy Pope, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
Ephraim Sykes, Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
Outstanding Female Dancer
Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, The Cher Show
Gabrielle Hamilton, Oklahoma!
Amber Gray, Hadestown
Leslie Kritzer, Beetlejuice
Angie Schworer, The Prom
Ain’t Too Proud – The Life and Times of The Temptations
Kiss Me Kate
The Cher Show
Joshua Bergasse, Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Raja Feather Kelly, If Pretty Hurts, Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka
Rick and Jeff Kuperman, Alice By Heart
Lorin Latarro, Merrily We Roll Along
Shea Sullivan, Neurosis, A Musical That Gets in Your Head
Outstanding Male Dancer
Brennan Caldwell, Neurosis, A Musical That Gets in Your Head
Zachary Downer, Alice By Heart
Brendan Henderson, Cleopatra
Jelani Remy, Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Wesley Taylor, Alice By Heart
Outstanding Female Dancer
Emma Degerstedt, Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Mia Dilena, Alice By Heart
Irina Dvorovenko, The Beast in the Jungle
Dionne D. Figgins, Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Naomi Kakuk, The Beast in the Jungle
Alice By Heart , MCC Theatre
Fiddler on the Roof, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
If Pretty Hurts, Ugly Must Be a Muhfucka, Playwrights Horizons
Smokey Joe’s Café, Steven Baruch, Mark Routh, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel
Twelfth Night, The Public Theater
Isn’t It Romantic – (Release date, February 13, 2019, Rebel Wilson, Liam Hemsworth) Choreographer: Christopher Gattelli; Additional Choreography, Nick Kenkel, Assistant Choreographer, Jon Rua
Mary Poppins Returns – (Release date, December 19, 2018, Emily Blunt, Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Choreographers: Rob Marshall & John DeLuca; Co-Choreographer, Joey Pizzi; Associate Choreographer, Tara Nichole Hughes, Assistant Choreographer: Marlon Pelayo
Shine – (Release date, October 6, 2018, Alysia Reiner, David Zayas)
Director of Choreography: Lyrik Cruz, Choreographers, Charlie Garcia, Osmar Perrones, Grisselle Ponce
Swimming with Men – (Release date, December 7, 2018, Rob Brydon, Rupert Graves) Choreographer: Caroline Pope, Assistant Choreographer, Carly Blackburn
The Nutcracker and The Far Realms – (Release date, November 2, 2018, Misty Copeland)
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Ballet Now – (Release date, July 20, 2018; Tiler Peck)
Director: Steven Cantor
Bathtubs Over Broadway – (Release date, November 30, 2018; Tribeca Film Festival Award Winner prior and other festivals, Chita Rivera, Martin Short, etc.)
Director: Dava Whisenant
Hot to Trot – (Release date, NY, August 24, 2018, nationwide rollout to follow)
Director: Gail Freedman
If The Dancer Dances – (Release date, July 24, 2018, Dance on Camera Festival)
Director, Maia Wechsler
Moving Stories, Lives Transformed By Dance – (Release Date, August 11, 2018, Battery Dance Festival, MoMa)
Director: Rob Fruchtman, Wilderness Films, Producer