Broadway legend Ben Vereen is the latest to face accusations of abuse after several young actresses came forward accusing the star of sexually assaulting them during the 2015 production of Hair.
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.’”
“He was acting as my mentor, asking me about my parents, then that same night, he put me on his lap while I was crying, and I felt his erection,” Terpstra recalled.
“He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying. I said, ‘Feel what?’ I wanted to act like I didn’t. I pushed myself off with a laugh. Then later, he asked, ‘Do you think I want to f–k you?’ I said ‘Yes,’ and he got angry. He said, ‘Well, I don’t, and that’s unfortunate.’ He made me feel like I had my mind in the gutter.”
Kim said during her time in the hot tub, things went even further. He asked her to perform oral sex on him. She passively obliged, feeling “confused,” she said.
“I just think at the time, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. I didn’t want to do it, but I was intimidated and scared. He was being very intense and angry. He seemed very angry and offended. I had seen him behave this way toward others in the tribe during circle,” she told The News.
“I just felt powerless because I thought I really needed his help and guidance. And when he said nudity doesn’t have to be sexual, I was like, ‘OK, maybe this isn’t even sexual,’ ” she said.
“Now I understand it was a power play. It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”
In his statement, Vereen said he gained new perspective on his behavior in the last two years.
“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. So I am not going to make any excuses because the only thing that matters here is acknowledging and apologizing for the effects of my conduct on the lives of these women,” he said.