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Story and photos By Andy Argyrakis,Throughout the back half of the 1960s, The Rascals ruled the charts with their harmony-heavy combination of rock n' soul, but by the time the early '70s rolled around, the New Jersey natives all but disappeared with very little fanfare. Sure, some members started solo careers or formed offshoot versions of the act, but none featured all four founding members and always fell short of the group's original glory.
Some hope for a full-fledged reunion came in 1997 when The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by longtime fan Steven Van Zandt (from Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band), though outside of a one off jam session that evening, the camps once again splinted. Nonetheless, Van Zandt and his wife Maureen tried time and time again to reunite the band over the subsequent years, eventually coaxing Felix Cavaliere (keyboard & vocals), Eddie Brigati (vocals), Dino Danelli (drums) and Gene Cornish (guitar) to perform together at a benefit concert three years ago (supported on the finale by Steven and Springsteen).
After instantly gelling musically and personally, the guys agreed to a multi-media, theatrical concert series that started off as six Port Chester, New York appearances in 2012, followed by 14 Broadway shows this spring under the production of the Van Zandts and Marc Brickman (Pink Floyd, Blue Man Group). Billed as "Once Upon A Dream" starring The Rascals, the now touring two hour experience features a complete concert by all four original players, accompanied by a backdrop encompassing LED screen that shows old photos, new interview snippets with members and a few action scenes where actors re-create past moments.
As a concert, the show is unquestionably a smash showcasing the fellas' surprisingly superb vocal and instrumental chops, even if some have aged better than others. Compared to say The Beach Boys' 50th anniversary outing, The Rascals sound much closer to their actual albums with just a trio of background singers and two supporting musicians adding some soulful enhancement (as opposed to ten supporting sidemen doing most of the heavy lifting). Though the gang didn't have as many hits as America's ultimate band or even fellow Jersey natives The Four Seasons, they blend covers with all the major crests, sounding absolutely sublime on "Good Lovin'," "Groovin'," "Lonely Too Long," "A Girl Like You," "It's A Beautiful Morning," "How Can I Be Sure" and "People Got to Be Free."
From a storytelling perspective, "Once Upon A Dream" isn't quite as seamless, starting with the fact that the group's history (at least the version depicted here) isn't really all that riveting, especially when compared to the endlessly captivating "Jersey Boys." The band's journey from the basement, to the clubs, to a record deal and then the charts all reads like a cookie cutter VH1 "Behind The Music" episode, followed by all the typical drug use, bad business deals, break-up and lawsuits (which are all sandwiched together at lightening speed in just one on screen dialogue scene). While there are certainly some genuinely fascinating antidotes among them, like the band turning down Phil Spector as a producer or getting involved in the Civil Rights movement, details are glossed over so quickly that a curious fan could glean more meat from merely the band's Wikipedia page.
In other words, anyone expecting a highly detailed story should brace themselves for CliffsNotes-styled sound bites, though those simply seeking a reunion concert are sure to be blown away by how sturdy the band still sounds, especially after so much time apart. Considering it's been over 40 years since the entire foursome toured, the many musical moments in "Once Upon A Dream" are truly a rare treat from an era-influencing band who likely could've accomplished so much more had they only stayed together.
"Once Upon A Dream" starring The Rascals continues at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through November 10. For additional details, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.
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