Broadway star Ben Vereen accused of sexual assault during 2015 production of ‘Hair’
Broadway star Ben Vereen has been accused of sexual assault by several women during the 2015 production of Hair.In a new article in the Daily News, two women say Vereen forcefully hugged and kissed them, stripped naked during an acting exercise and invited them to his home for “private rehearsals,” during which time things turned sexual. Vereen apologized for his actions in a statement to the 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,” he said. “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 continued: “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.” Kaitlyn Terpstra, 22 at the time and Kim (she asked the Daily News to only be identified by her first name), 23, both say Vereen lured them into his hot tub naked and pressed his erect penis against them.
“He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual. ‘That’s not what it’s about.’ He made me feel that if I wasn’t mature enough to understand that, I wasn’t mature enough to be in ‘Hair,’” Terpstra told the Daily News. The musical Hair first debuted in 1967 and portrayed the sexual revolution of the 1960s. It became famous for a major nude scene. “He basically told both of us, ‘Get over yourself. Nudity doesn’t have to be sexual.’ If we asked questions or hesitated, we were the ones making it weird,” Kim said.
Once in the hot tub, Kim said Vereen asked her to perform oral sex on him. She agreed, saying she “didn’t feel like I had a choice.” “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 Daily 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,’ ”
“Now I understand it was a power play,” she continued. “It was so calculated. It was like we were putty in his hands.”Kim said she became involved in a relationship with Vereen, and says one night he began having sex with her while she was sleeping. A third actress, Ariella Pizarro, said Vereen pressed himself against her one night as he hugged her goodbye. She also said he kissed her on the lips during rehearsals one day.
“We were in a music rehearsal, and he was just walking around, and then he walked up and kissed me on the lips. It was so weird. We all knew ‘Hair’ was going to be a different kind of production, like in the 60s, but he didn’t even ask first. He just kissed me. I was shocked, for sure,” Pizarro said. Several fellow actresses on the musical also recalled uncomfortable rehearsals when Vereen would request the cast strip naked in preparation for the nude scene.
The Venice Theatre, the company behind Hair, issued a statement to the Daily News. “The theater attempted to contact every member of the 32-person Hair cast in the last few months and reached all but about six,” a spokeswoman said. “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. Some of those visits resulted in compromising situations for at least two of the actresses,” Executive Director Murray Chase said in a separate statement to the Daily News. “We are working to strengthen our sexual harassment policies and procedures, including the reporting of them, to prevent any future occurrences.”