By: Anne M. Raso
I was lucky enough to get seats for the first night of the Rascals' 15-night reunion run called Once Upon A Dream at the Richard Rogers Theater in New York City. Outside of one private charity show at the Tribeca Grill and a run in Port Chester, NY, back in December, the original four Rascals have not performed together since lead singer and lyricist Eddie Brigati left the group in 1970--the same day the group made the transition from Atlantic to Columbia Records. It was said that he was not happy that he was not happy that singer/songwriter/keyboardist Felix Cavaliere sold the publishing rights to the group's body of material for only 200K (and it is not estimated to be worth 20 million)! Everyone has put their differences behind them thanks to actor/musician Steven Van Zandt and his wife Maureen having, what he calls, "a lifelong dream to reunite The Rascals." Van Zandt told me "they are like the American Beatles" and indeed The Fab Four's promoter Sid Bernstein was the group's manager back in their heyday from 1965 to 1970. At the final sound check before opening night, guitarist Gene Cornish told me that there would be lots of surprises in the show, "There are 28 songs so there is something for everyone. It goes from covers we were doing back at places like The Choo Choo Club (in Garfield, NJ, which is Brigati's hometown) and The Barge (in East Quoque, LI). There are the hits and the more psychedelic stuff and the covers and everything in between."
What makes the show more than just a series of 15 reunion concerts is the fact that there are interesting visuals on the screen behind the band--which is not only original members Cavaliere, Cornish, Brigati and drummer Dino Danelli--but an added bassist, second keyboard player and three background vocalists. The visuals include the band in the present day telling their history, classic 60s footage of go-go- dancers, psychedelic and op art effects (including what qualifies as the old-school Fillmore East "liquid light show" look), vignettes including four young actors cast as the group back in the mid 60s, actor Vincent "Big Pussy” Pastore playing the manager of Cavalier's earlier band The Escorts and being an MC of sorts. Cornish was amazed as I was at how the actors playing The Rascals circa the mid 60s had an incredible resemblance to the real thing. He says, "They did an incredible job finding those guys. They have wigs on but they really look and sound like us. I had to do a double take."
The song list is phenomenal and the band is in fine form. Brigati still hits the high notes and Cavaliere sounds as soulful as ever. The group's musical chops are in fine form, with Cornish playing some searing leads on five different types of guitars and the underrated Danelli doing his trademark drumstick twirls and pounding away on a totally transparent kit. High points of the set include the hits "People Just Wanna Be Free," "You Better Run," "Come On Up," "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," "Good Lovin'," "Groovin'" and "I've Been Lonely Too Long." The hit list actually goes on and on and the audience is up on their feet for most of the set.
Audience members are allowed to shoot photos and put pictures up on social media (the first time I have ever seen this on Broadway) and overall, the show has the feeling of one big "love in." It shows that there was indeed ANOTHER set of Jersey Boys who rocked harder than those other guys, and were a mouthpiece for social change in their later years. There is a touching part of the show where Cavaliere is acknowledged by the other members of the group for taking them "from cover band to doing original material and pushing the envelope" as Brigati put it and there is obvious affection between the group members. This is one of those shows were you leave feeling really good not only because of the upbeat, tight performance of the band but because you feel you were part of rock history in the making. The acoustics in the theater make it a stellar place to see rock legends reuniting. "You better run" and not walk because tickets are almost sold out. (Tickets are available at ticketmaster.com and the last show is Saturday, May 4)
Photos: Anne Raso and The Hartmann Group