News Column

Groovin' again with the Rascals; Steven Van Zandt gets '60s group to reunite for Broadway-styleshow.

May 23, 2013


Back in the days before he was Little Steven Van Zandt and was justlittle Steven Van Zandt, the future bandanna-wearing tele- mobsterchampion of all things rock and roll went to see his very firstconcert -- The Rascals.

It's fair to say that it blew his mind.

"Their idea of blue-eyed soul was way more localized than (that of)the British invasion, even though they were all white kids playingblack music," remembers Van Zandt, whose phone voice is just likeit seems on TV, which is soulfully raspy and nearly spilling overwith unfiltered cool. "The Rascals were one major step closer bybeing American. Them being from New York and us being in NewJersey, we adopted them as a New Jersey band."

Almost five decades later, Bruce Springsteen's longtime runningbuddy and E Street Band mainstay still carries the memories of thatshow with him. Even after Rascals members Felix Cavaliere, DinoDanelli, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish called it quits in 1972,Van Zandt dreamed that one day, the band would get back together,just like we've all wished when our favorite bands go kaput.

Unlike most of us, though, Van Zandt had the juice to do it.

"If you see the E Street Band, you can trace what we're doing backto The Rascals," says the rocker and now producer/director of "TheRascals: Once Upon A Dream," coming to the Hard Rock Live at theSeminole Hard Rock in Hollywood this weekend after a successful runon Broadway.

"I don't think people know the band's history or how influentialthey were, and I felt that needed to be corrected. Hopefully thisshow corrects that forever more."

There are obvious comparisons to "Jersey Boys," the Tony- winningtheatrical recreation of the life and career of Frankie Valli andthe Four Seasons, but "Once Upon A Dream," named after a Rascalsalbum, is part performance, part theatrical event, part musicalhistory lesson.

Featuring lighting design by Emmy winner Marc Brickman, the showpresents all four original Rascals as they tell their story both intheir own words from behind darkened screens, sometimes with filmedrecreations with young actors, and with joyously live musicalperformances of indelible hits like "Good Lovin'," "I've BeenLonely Too Long," "Groovin'" and "A Beautiful Morning."

Since their break up, various members of the Rascals had reunitedin various forms, but never all four together. Many had tried tomake that happen, but in the end "there was no one else in theworld left" but their bandanna-wearing mega fan, says drummerDanelli.

"He had the right approach. He knew us all personally, and knewwhat needed to be done. He's easy to work with. He was the guy whowas meant to do it. God bless him, he had the perseverance to doit. He got beat up pretty badly, but when the time came to do it,if anyone could get the Rascals back together, it was Steven."

The Rascals formed in Garfield, N.J., in the early '60s afterCavaliere, Brigati and Cornish were in Joey Dee and theStarlighters, of "Peppermint Twist" fame. They were together fiveyears, with Brigati and Cornish leaving before the whole thingended. By the time it was over, the Rascals had nine albums andeight Top 20 singles.

"The first time around was a wall of fire. We got caught up in it.We were young, 17, 18 years old," Danelli says. "We couldn'tcomprehend. We knocked songs out, one after another, and when youget into hit record mode, the record company wants you to keepmaking hits. With all that struggle you gotta do to keep itgoing...we were never really ready."

Van Zandt first floated the idea of a full-band reunion in 1982,but "they weren't ready, for various reasons," he said. "There wasa minimal amount of animosity to begin with. There was nothing toreally fix. (But) they're very idealistic individuals, and were notinterested in doing it strictly for the money as many do -- andit's fine that many do. They simple were not interested in it."

So if they needed a reason, he wanted to give them a good one,devising a show with 28 songs and multimedia elements "to stimulatetheir creative parts, their creative souls, if you will."

Van Zandt adds that he thinks "having a little but of distance fromthe '60s didn't hurt" their decision to reunite now. "At thisstage, it was sort of now or never. Tell your story or forever beunknown and lost to history. I think their real fans think theyknow the band but are going to find quite a bit they didn't know.They didn't have a lot in common musically, but they had a magicalchemistry when they played together. They were also involved in theCivil Rights movement. 'People Got To Be Free' was an anthem of themovement."

Danelli says it means a lot to reconnect with their fans. "Theydidn't forget us. It's very emotional. We can watch the audience,and we can see the faces in the distance as they watch us. It'ssuch an experience."

Van Zandt says he was struck "by how young they all sounded, howyoung the show makes them feel. Something about the messagetranscends the show, transcends the Rascals. Their message andmusic and the idealism of the '60s comes across like no other showever. There's so much hope, so much optimism. It's a little bit ofa miracle."

"You have fathers bringing their daughters and sons andgrandchildren," Danelli says. "It's fun to see. It's like it wasthe first time again. But we're much older, so we appreciate it alittle bit more."

lstreeter@pbpost.comTwitter: @LeslieStreeter

if you go

The Rascals, "Once Upon A Dream": Friday-Sunday, Hard Rock Live.

Ticket info and times:

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