‘Once Upon a Dream’ becomes a reality for Van Zandt, the Rascals
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter November 3, 2013 5:47PM
The Rascals: Eddie Brigati (from left), Gene Cornish, Dino Danelli and Felix Cavaliere.
‘ONCE UPON A
DREAM — STARRING THE RASCALS’
When: Nov. 5-10
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 N. Randolph
Tickets : $45-$75
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: November 6, 2013 10:10AM
One of the most wondrous things about listening to late 1960s radio was not knowing if an American rock ’n’ roll band was black or white.
The Beach Boys? Very white.
Creedence Clearwater’s country tinge was white.
But what was this soul groove that came from the Young Rascals?
People had to be free.
The first white band signed to Atlantic Records, The Rascals, as they were later known, turned out a slew of hits for the label, the home of black artists such as John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. “Groovin” is simply timeless. “A Girl Like You” has all the staying power of the Temptations’ “My Girl.” The Rascals wrote the anthem “People Gotta Be Free” after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.
The Rascals are back together again for the first time in 40 years in “Once Upon a Dream— Starring the Rascals” — produced by Steven Van Zandt, founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, and his wife Maureen. The concert/theater production opens Nov. 5 and runs through Nov. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
All four original Rascals reassembled for “Once Upon a Dream” (which sold out its 15-show Broadway engagement and is returning to Broadway for the holidays)— soulful singer-keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish, fronting vocalist Eddie Brigati and drummer Dino Danelli.
Van Zandt talked the band into getting back together. It was a labor of love. The Young Rascals were the first rock band Van Zandt saw, in 1965, at the Keyport Roller Dome in New Jersey. Bruce Springsteen was in the house, but not with his future foil.
“I was in the battle of the bands,” Van Zandt said during a recent stop in Chicago. “And the winner would open for the Rascals. My band [The Source] usually won those things, but not that night. The Rascals had taken everybody by surprise, because we thought you had to be English to be a rock star. And here come the Rascals, not only American, but from New Jersey. It was the most exciting group I had seen live to this day.”
Van Zandt still gets excited about that night and it’s not just because he is promoting “Once Upon a Dream.”
“The big B3 organ with Felix all over it,” Van Zandt continued. “That was speaking in a way we never heard an instrument speak before. Gene was very underrated as a guitar player. Eddie, a great front man. Dino, best drummer ever. Basically white guys performing like a black band. I only needed their first single [1965’s “Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore”)]and I was done. Everything else was a bonus.”
One of several tricks Van Zandt had to pull off was to make “Once Upon a Dream” different from recent rock musicals that have played homage to Queen, Janis Joplin, and the mega smash “Jersey Boys” about the very white Four Seasons.
For starters, the Rascals are performing live. And Van Zandt spent three years writing the book that tells their story.
“I wanted to add to that,” he explained. “I called Marc Brickman [visual designer for Pink Floyd, Paul McCartney, Springsteen] and said, ‘This is what I have in mind. Have you ever done that?’ He said, ‘No one has ever done that.’ It ended up a hybrid between a concert and a Broadway show. We filmed [the Rascals] telling their story. Marc constructed a 50-foot screen behind them, taking up the entire theater back wall. We filmed actors acting scenes from their past. They speak to the audience from this gigantic screen. It ends up as this new idea.”
The Rascals split in 1972, a year after Butterfield Blues Band guitarist Buzzy Feiten replaced Cornish. They spent much of the next 40 years sniping at each other.
“In ’82 a mutual friend called me to reunite them,” Van Zandt said. “I met with them and they weren’t ready. Every five or 10 years I tried to get them back together. Finally three years ago my wife and I were honored at the Kristen Ann Carr [rock critic Dave Marsh’s late stepdaughter] cancer fund-raising benefit. Maureen said, ‘Give it one more try.’ After 40 years of people throwing money at them — they said yes.
“And they did it for free.”
Find out why Steve Van Zandt calls Dino Danelli the best drummer ever and more on the Rascals at voices.suntimes.com/category/arts-entertainment/scratch-crib/