The Rascals Redefine Reunion Concerts With ‘Once Upon A Dream’

The Rascals may have reinvented the reunion with their “Once Upon A Dream” show, which opened its six-night stand at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, New York last night (December 13).

The show’s mastermind, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, recently told CBS Local that, given the fact that the original lineup of the group hadn’t performed for the public in 40 years, simply doing a concert just wouldn’t be enough. “This would be like if Jersey Boys had The Four Seasons in the show. [We’re] not only having the music, but also telling the story.”  He spoke of actors, films and the original members of the band (keyboardist/singer Felix Cavaliere, singer Eddie Brigati, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Dinelli). It was an ambitious sounding project to be sure.

The way the show works is unique: the band members, in pre-taped segments, narrate their own story on a giant screen behind the stage; they look right into the camera, giving the effect that they’re talking right to you. Some memorable segments included Cavaliere recalling seeing The Beatles perform: “We weren’t that impressed!” And Brigati talked about waking up from a coma after a car accident: somehow, although he couldn’t remember very much, the band convinced him to perform with them, and (he claimed) his memory started returning. “It was a miracle! But isn’t every great band a miracle?”

At certain points, younger actors play out key scene’s in the band’s career on screen, with some special guest actors: Little Steven’s fellow Soprano Vinny Pastore (aka “Big P***y”) narrated and also played industry figure “Fat Frankie,” while Steven’s wife Maureen Van Zandt played Pam Sawyer, who co-wrote the band’s first hit, “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore.” (Maureen and Steven Van Zandt were the show’s executive producers; Maureen was also the stylist for the video segments.)

Those segments alternated with performances by the band (accompanied by a second keyboardist, a bassist and three backing singers). Both during the interludes and during the performances, the visuals were stunning.  Chalk that up to Mark Brickman, who was the stage, video and lighting designer, and who co-produced and co-directed the show with Little Steven. He’s well known as the stage/video/lighting designer for Roger Waters’ Wall tour, and has also worked for Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney and the Olympics.

Of course, everything else would have been ultimately inconsequential if the band’s performance didn’t live up to 40 years of anticipation. And the band didn’t disappoint. (In fact, Van Zandt told CBS Local that he actually decided to stage this event after seeing a rare performance by the group at a private event in 2010). Cavaliere missed a couple of notes, but very few: it’s shocking how much he sounds like his younger self. Gene Cornish is an underrated guitarist who plays with the fury of garage rocker playing at a “battle of the bands.”  Dino Dinelli has figured out how to shave two or three decades off of his age; his drumming propels the band, and makes what could have been a laid-back song revue feel urgent and vital. And Eddie Brigati dances as good, and sings as soulfully, as he did all those decades ago.

Hearing their catalog was also a revelation. Deep cuts like “What Is The Reason,” “Hold On” and “If You Knew” stood tall next to classics like “How Can I Be Sure,” “Groovin'” and “A Beautiful Morning,” and also displayed the band’s diversity. Anyone attending the show who is only familiar with the group’s handful of chart-toppers will likely be hitting iTunes when they get home.

In a nod to their early club days, they also played some of the covers from their repertoire, including The Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey,” The Marvelettes’ “Too Many Fish In The Sea” and Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Turn On Your Lovelight.”

The emotional highlight was Cavaliere explaining to the audience that, having seen the discrimination that his mother, an Italian-American, experienced, he (along with the band) had no tolerance for prejudice. That led into an emotional performance of “People Got To Be Free,” backed by footage from the Civil Rights Era.

Soon after, the show closed, and a super-charged audience filed out. While The Rolling Stones, playing the much bigger Prudential Center less than 50 miles away at the same time, have redefined the arena and stadium spectacle, The Rascals (with the help of the producers) have changed the game on making concerts more intimate. Unlike the Stones, the Rascals had no special guests, new songs, or any pretense of being about anything other than the 1960’s. Whatever implications that may have for the band, the audience loved it, whooping and hollering through the show, both at the songs and at the band members’ taped segments. Where the Stones belong to everyone, fans reacted to “Once Upon A Dream” as if they were dusting off a secret box of records that they hadn’t listened to in years, and which the rest of the world is no longer “in” on.

The Rascals have five more shows at the Capitol Theatre lined up, go to the venue’s website for more details. According to the show’s playbill, “Once Upon A Dream” is booked for The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida on Memorial Day Weekend 2013.

Brian Ives, CBS Local 

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