Four women have accused Tony Award-winning Broadway superstar Ben Vereen of sexual harassment and sexual assault during a 2015 production of Hair at the Venice Theatre near Tampa, Florida. The New York Daily News broke the exclusive story on Friday morning detailing his alleged unwanted sexual advances and verbal abuse. Vereen, who was almost 69 years old at the time, apparently doesn’t deny any of it.
“I would like to apologize directly to the female cast members of the musical Hair for my inappropriate conduct when I directed the production in 2015,” Vereen offered in a statement to The News. “While it was my intention to create an environment that replicated the themes of that musical during the rehearsal process, I have since come to understand that it is my conduct, not my intentions, which are relevant here.”
Kaitlyn Terpstra (then 22 years old), “Kim” (then 23), Ariella Pizarro (then 22), and “Vera” (then 27) gave multiple accounts of Vereen’s alleged misconduct. Kaitlyn and “Kim” said that, among other acts, he lured them to his rental home on two separate occasions in September 2015 for “private rehearsals” while Ariella and “Vera” spoke openly about harassment in the work environment.
He was said to play mind games with the women convincing them that “nudity doesn’t have to be sexual” just to get them to join him in his hot tub. “Kim” said that on her visit, she felt pressured to have oral sex with Vereen because he was being very “intense and angry” in his demands of her. Their relationship later became consensual.
The volunteer cast members said that during rehearsals, Vereen would use the same techniques to make them vulnerable and compliant in the sexually-charged environment. He would ask personal questions and then use their weaknesses and insecurities to control the actors. Vereen was perceived to be famous and powerful and he made many promises of fame and success if they followed his lead. “Kim” told The News that actors who went on tour with him would get their coveted Actors’ Equity Association cards.
Pizarro recalled how Vereen walked up to her during a rehearsal and kissed her which caught her off guard. She kept her distance from him for the duration of the production. “Vera” remembered after a small group rehearsal at Vereen’s house where he made sexual advances toward her after everyone else had left. She rebuffed his advances.
“He kept whispering things into my ear like ‘relax’ and ‘Give yourself to me,'” she told The News. “After the initial shock wore off I stopped his advances. He was never pleasant to me again.”
Ben Vereen, broadway legend, sexually harassed many people in my community theatre production of HAIR, kissed me after I…
Venice Theatre Executive Director Murray Chase was aware of an altercation between Vereen and Terpstra that he himself had to break up, but he now claims that they didn’t know the extent of the problem. In a letter to Terpstra, Chase and theater president Laura Kopple apologized to her and offered to pay for counseling. Chase told The News that the theater is taking steps to prevent future instances of sexual harassment.
“We have learned recently that during our 2015 production of Hair, more than one female cast member was asked to join Mr. Vereen at his residence,” Chase said in a statement. “Some of those visits resulted in compromising situations for at least two of the actresses. We are working to strengthen our sexual harassment policies and procedures, including the reporting of them, to prevent any future occurrences.”
There is no word on any legal action taken toward Ben Vereen at this time.