In a depressingly familiar story, The New York Daily News reports today that 71-year-old Tony winner Ben Vereen has been accused of sexual assault by actresses several decades his junior. The alleged assaults happened when Vereen was directing a revival of Hair at the the Venice Theatre in Florida in 2015 (he was a member of the original Broadway cast). The News reports: “The women… say Vereen forced unwanted kisses, hugged them aggressively, stripped naked during an acting exercise and made degrading comments about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives… Two of the actresses told the Daily News that Vereen lured them to his Florida rental home on separate occasions in September 2015 under the guise of ‘private rehearsals.’ Then he pressed his erect penis into their legs without warning.” Vereen’s actions also reportedly affected other women in the cast, “as several young actresses cast in the show claim the Broadway legend’s sexually abusive behavior nearly broke them.”
The musical features a famous group nude scene; the two women—Kaitlyn Terpstra and another woman identified only as Kim—say that Vereen used the theme as an excuse, using the same lines on both of them to encourage them to get naked in his backyard hot tub. Once he succeeded, he proceeded to ask them probing emotional questions, similar to intrusive interrogations he conducted during rehearsals, mostly toward female cast members. One of the women, Terpstra, who was only 22 years old at the time, told the Daily News: “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. He asked me, ‘Feel that?’ It was terrifying.”
When questioned about the allegations, Vereen made the following statement to the New York Daily News:
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… 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.
Going forward, my having come to terms with my past conduct will inform all my future interactions not only with women, but with all individuals. I hope these women will find it in their hearts to accept my sincere apology and forgive me.
When told of Vereen’s apology, Kim told the Daily News, “It’s nice, but I’m not sure I believe it. Those words aren’t going to take back everything he did.”