Friday, August 30, 2013

If Dreams Were Wishes: The Young Rascals' Once Upon a Dream

The Young Rascals? I never would have dreamed it.  So how in the world did this happen?  These guys weren’t even speaking to one another for years, decades even. Felix Cavaliere played a short set of familiar tunes in front of a band of hired guns at last year’s Hippie-Fest.  Five or six songs was all, and he sounded in great voice.  YouTube videos showed Eddie Brigati re-tuning his vocal cords; and Dino Danelli together with Gene Cornish was on tour with The New Rascals. But this was the four guys together on one stage, like a real band, playing the hits (and the not-quite-hits) from fifty years ago. Felix, Eddie, Dino and Gene on stage at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  How in the world did this dream come true?

It’s all down to Steve Van Zandt, that’s right, Bruce Springsteen’s guitar playing pal, Tony Soprano’s right hand man, radio host, and all round music lover Miami Steve. After inducting the original four Rascals into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997 by wearing the “Little Lord Fauntleroy” suits the band wore for their first television appearances, Van Zandt had an idea to get the band back together.  It took him some time, funding the project with Kickstarter, and writing the show with enough political correctness to get the four feuding band members to agree to do it (but more about that later). 

Steve Van Zandt and The Rascals
The show is called Once Upon a Dream and Van Zandt’s pitch for funding read like this:

"To do justice to the Rascals importance, I've written a show for them that is just as unique as they are...It's a combination of a rock concert and a Broadway show that will include their own live performance by the original four Rascals - Felix, Eddie, Dino, Gene, and be complimented by filmed segments and news footage and will be a show that they can take all over the country....The show will be an uplifting inspiration for you fans that have been waiting all these years, praying for a Rascals comeback, and those of you who are younger will get a real taste of the '60's you missed the first time around. Me and Marc have invested our time, money, and blood these last few years for this idea and now we need you to bring it home. Not one dollar that is contributed will go into anyone's pocket, or be commissioned in any way, every dollar will go into the production making it as good as it can be, as great as the Rascals deserve....So that's it. The Rascals are coming back. We have been looking for other investors but nobody has any vision anymore. Frankly nobody believes in this dream except me, Marc, Peter and you. The production will be as big as you make it. On behalf of the Rascals Thank you." - Steven Van Zandt

They received pledges of $123,300, (nearly 25% more than they had asked for) and the show premiered on Broadway last April selling out 15 performances and leading to successful tour. The show at the Royal Alex still features all four Rascals supplemented by backup singers, a bass player, and keyboardist. The Rascals are centre-stage in front of a huge video screen on which is flashed all sorts of images. The most interesting are individual interviews with the four guys, telling their story straight up. These interviews are enhanced by brief re-enactments (by actors) of specific scenes from their career, or old photos and videos describing the milieu. Look for conflicting images of war and peace, for instance, as The Rascals play songs from deep in their catalogue. Other songs were highlighted with clips from Pam Greer films, or some erotic dancing, cartoons, or that oil and water thing that was so popular in the 60s. The lighting display was created by Van Zandt’s co-director Marc Brickman (who has worked with Pink Floyd). The set list was rich with both hits ("Good Lovin,'" "Groovin'") and those lost classic from B-sides ("If You Knew," "Come on Up") or album tracks ("Find Somebody," "Away, Away"). It was a feast for Rascals fans. And they were legion. The Royal Alex seemed full up. Likely the heavily discounted seats offered in the previous two days had something to do with filling seats. We ordered our tickets the Friday before the discounts were announced, so missed the savings but still felt we received our money’s worth, by the sheer professionalism of the production and the passion of the band.

Vinnie Pastore, best known as “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero on The Sopranos, acts as narrator and manager Fat Frankie on the video. The Jerseyness of the band is highlighted by his presence, and by the story itself.   At the end of the show Gene Cornish (who has been playing some wicked guitar licks all night, and tossing picks out into the audience) announced, “So as you know, Eddie and Dino are from New Jersey, Felix is from New York…but I was born in…OTTAWA!  Eh!?, Eh?!” This to perhaps the biggest cheer of the night.

But cheers came early and often as the band played through 28 of their songs with a fire that could easily have gone out this long from the beginning. The video material was interesting and well done, but we were there to hear (and SEE) the original Rascals, the four guys who tore it up on Ed Sullivan. And there they were before our very eyes. My friend Alex is still saying it this morning, “We saw the Rascals…we actually saw the Rascals!” Indeed we did. And perhaps it’s not reading too much into the reformation to notice that at the very end of the show, Felix Cavaliere, sat on the organ riser talking to a roadie while Eddie, Gene and Dino thanked Felix for being the genius he is. “We were a band, a real band, but we had Felix and his voice and songwriting to lead us.” Every group needs a leader I guess. Is that what kept them apart for so long? We’ll never know the truth, but Miami Steve has done a fine thing bringing them together for a rockin’ night in the theatre. I never would’ve dreamed it!

– David Kidney has reviewed for Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog. He published the Rylander Quarterly (a Ry Cooder-based newsletter) for 8 years before turning it into a blog, at He works at McMaster University as Director of Learning Space Development and lives in Dundas, Ontario with his wife.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome show, saw it last night, Oct 10, 2013, at GreekTheater in L..A.