Ben Vereen may have stunned on stage, but his off-stage behavior allegedly horrified many actresses during a Florida production in 2015. Several female co-stars accused Vereen of sexual assault and harassment while they worked with him on a rock musical titled Hair outside of Tampa, the New York Daily News reported Friday.
The Broadway star, 71, forced unauthorized advances that included kissing and “aggressive” hugging, the actresses, who were part of the Venice Theatre production in November and December 2015, claimed. Vereen demeaned actresses about their weight, sex appeal and personal lives. He even stripped naked in front of them for an acting exercise, they said.
Vereen is also accused of another more horrifying heinous act of pressing his erect genitals against the women who were lured to his Florida rental home for “private rehearsals.” Several twenty-something-year-old actresses publicly spoke about the charges.
“He gave this whole speech about how nudity was not inherently sexual,” alleged one of the actresses, Kaitlyn Terpstra, who said she was 22 when she got into a hot tub with Vereen and another actress who was asked to perform oral sex. “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.’”
Vereen didn’t deny the claims that the actresses made, unlike other high-profile Hollywood men who have been accused of assault in recent months.
“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 told the NY Daily News in a statement. “… 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.”
The show’s volunteer cast also included Vereen’s son, Aaron Vereen, Broadway World reported.
Four actresses spoke out about Vereen’s escalating terrifying behavior, saying he kept them under his thumb with manipulation tactics. One woman was asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement, she explained. Others were promised the chance to have their show taken on the road and earn Actors’ Equity Association cards, which allow for actors to get health insurance, a guaranteed minimum wage and a shot at a professional acting career.
Venice Theatre officials said they finally learned about the heinous allegations against Vereen after Terpstra posted about her experience on Facebook in November. They then attempted to contact every member of the 32-person “Hair” cast in the last few months, a spokeswoman said. The company is working to “strengthen” sexual harassment policies and procedures.
The women are working on healing from the horrific experience and stopping Vereen from hurting others.