Nov. 14--As a teenager growing up in New Jersey in the 1960s, Steven Van Zandt marveled at the stage shows produced by American soul group The Rascals.
As an adult, he is responsible for reuniting the group for a one-of-a-kind performance.
Van Zandt, well-known guitarist of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, produced "The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream." The show comes to the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre following a critically acclaimed, sold-out Broadway engagement. The performance takes place Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
"Once Upon A Dream" includes 28 songs performed by The Rascals, including their hits and deep cuts from their albums. Songs are interspersed with the history of the iconic group told through archival footage, narration and dramatic film segments.
"When you transport people back to the '60s for two hours, with this great, amazing music and the visuals to go with it, people are really taking a trip," said Van Zandt. "They're feeling what it was like to live back then. The '60s were a time of hope and optimism."
The show reunites original band members Felix Cavaliere, keyboards and vocals; Eddie Brigati, vocals; Dino Danelli, drums; and Gene Cornish, guitar.
Those attending the Wilkes-Barre show will see the same show that played on Broadway. Van Zandt said they aren't cutting the production down for the tour.
"What people see on Broadway is exactly what they're going to see there. Don't miss it. This thing is really awesome," he said. "It's a new evolution of the concert experience."
Growing up in New Jersey, Van Zandt said he got to see The Rascals firsthand, as they were Jersey boys themselves. The group, founded in Garfield, N.J., became known for its hits "A Beautiful Morning," "A Girl Like You" and "Groovin'."
"They were the first, sort of, local group, if you will, that we heard on the radio," he said. "At that time, everything we were hearing was coming from England -- you know, the British Invasion of '64, '65. We literally thought you had to be English to be a rock star."
Van Zandt remembers seeing them perform at a roller skating rink, calling it one of the most exciting nights of his life. There was nothing quite like their live performances. And then, they started writing great songs on top of that, he said.
"They were so great live. This band was the most exciting band in rock and roll history," he said. "Eddie, the lead singer, was the most exciting frontman. He made Mick Jagger look like he was standing still. Dino, the undisputed greatest drummer in history. He would twirl his sticks and do all these incredible moves, coming from the jazz world. And Felix with that big B3 organ that no one had ever seen before, right out of gospel music. And Gene, a very exciting guitar player. Just a lot of movement in their show, and excitement."
Van Zandt inducted the group into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. He got the idea for "Once Upon A Dream" after asking the members to perform at the Kristen Ann Carr Fund's cancer benefit about three years ago.
"It was my wife's idea to call them to see if they would reunite to make it a special evening, and they surprisingly said yes," he said. "They were great that night after not playing together for 40 years, and I thought 'Oh, my God, I have to find a way to keep this together.' I thought, 'Everybody in the world is going to want to see this.'"
Van Zandt knew the group members would want their comeback to be more than just a reunion, so he had to come up with a creative and interesting presentation for both the band members and the audience. It took him three years to write it right, incorporating the live concert and storytelling aspects. The multimedia experience also includes interviews with the original band members, as well as actors portraying key moments in the group's history.
Van Zandt brought on Marc Brickman to help produce and design the stage, video and lights.
"He worked with Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney, and he was Bruce's first lighting guy," he said. "He said, 'Let's give it a shot. No one's every done that before. Let's try it.' We spent a long time figuring it out, and I'm really happy with the results."
After its current tour, the show will head back to Broadway in December for a three-week limited run through January 2014.
What: "The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream"
When: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 6: 30)
Where: F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts, 71 Public Square, Wilkes-Barre
Tickets: $65.50, $75.50 and $99, plus fees, available at the Kirby Center box office, kirbycenter.org or call 570-826-1100.
(c)2013 The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.)
Visit The Citizens' Voice (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.) at citizensvoice.com
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