Oct. 12--"The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream" is part theater and part concert.
Unfortunately, it's not great in either regard.
The touring production, which kicked off a two-night stand at the Warfield in San Francisco on Friday, traces the legacy of the classic blue-eyed soul band behind "Good Lovin'," "A Beautiful Morning" and other smash '60 singles.
Sounds more than a little like "Jersey Boys," right?
The key difference is that this "Dream" features the actual band -- vocalist Eddie Brigati, keyboardist-vocalist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli.
The chance to see all four original Rascals reunite onstage is surely the biggest selling point of "Once Upon a Dream." It comes after more than four decades of lawsuits and bickering, which only came to an end with the help of the E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt.
Van Zandt had been trying to put the band back together again for years, but was met with resistance by the players. Then he came up with the notion of doing a theatrical/concert hybrid, and the Rascals were sold.
Think of it as Rascals 101. You get a concert, featuring most of the New Jersey band's greatest tunes, as well as a history lesson, told primarily through videotaped interviews with the band that are shown on a large screen at the back of the stage.
And it just doesn't gel. The storytelling isn't compelling, although the Rascals' story is quite fascinating. The musical performances are flat, even though the both the vocals and musicianship are solid. The whole production feels every bit as scripted as one might fear, which saps the energy and passion out of the songs.
"Once Upon a Dream" works chronologically, beginning with the formation of the band and meandering through its early days in the record business to superstardom to the breakup to, finally, its reformation. Narrative interviews, filmed specifically for this show, tell the story in short doses, punctuated by live performances. Sometimes the songs performed directly relate to the time period discussed in the interviews and other times it has no real correlation.
The Rascals, who were accompanied onstage by 3 backing vocalists and two side musicians, kicked off the show with two 1967 singles -- "It's Wonderful" and "I've Been Lonely Too Long." The early interviews covered the ground leading up to the formation of the band, yet they hardly drew you in to the narrative.
The first real excitement of the night came at the end of the first set, as the band launched into the classic '66 side "Good Lovin'," which managed to get a few fans out of their chairs and dancing.
The second set started out in strong fashion, offering up "Love Is a Beautiful Thing," "Groovin'" and "A Beautiful Morning" in the first 20 minutes. It was fun to watch the faces in the crowd as the Rascals waltzed through these numbers. Fans have such warm memories of these golden oldies, and it showed in their smiles.
The Rascals all sounded strong -- especially Cavaliere, who remains the primary reason to pay attention to this band -- but they just couldn't get into a groove. That's probably linked to the production's design, which calls upon the band to start and stop on numerous occasions. Whatever momentum the Rascals would gain after playing a big hit would be quickly washed away during the breaks for the video segments.
It was particularly jarring to go from seeing the real Rascals perform to watching actors play the younger Rascals in the video segments. Talk about a disconnect. (Fortunately, there weren't many segments featuring actors.)
In all, the hybrid just doesn't work. It would have been a far more satisfying "Dream" if the Rascals had just reunited for a whole evening of song.
Read Jim Harrington's Concert Blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts. Follow him at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic.
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