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Trip back to ‘Rascals’ heyday worth effort

 
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The Rascals: Eddie Brigati (from left) Gene Cornish Dino Danelli Felix Cavaliere.

The Rascals: Eddie Brigati (from left), Gene Cornish, Dino Danelli and Felix Cavaliere.

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‘ONCE UPON A DREAM STARRING THE RASCALS’

Recommended

When: Through Nov. 10

Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre,
151 W. Randolph

Tickets : $45-$75

Info: (800) 775-2000;
BroadwayInChicago.com

Run time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, one intermission

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Updated: December 8, 2013 7:02AM



The best way to think about “Once Upon a Dream: The Rascals,” the hybrid of jukebox musical and concert making a brief stop at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is to see it as the Rip Van Winkle-like incarnation of a rock band.

Just shift the setting from New York’s Catskill Mountains to Garfield, New Jersey, and the story might go something like this: Four guys get together in the early 1960s (three had already played in another band). They then head down to the proverbial “parents’ basement” and realize they just might possess that miracle mixology that makes for a great band.

Beginning in 1965, The Rascals soared with a series of Top 20 hits. One of the few American bands to survive The British Invasion, they went on to ride that wild, world-changing wave that was the sexual revolution, the war in Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement.

Things begin to fall apart by 1972 and the guys more or less went to sleep for four decades, only to reawaken at the prompting of musician-actor-director-producer (and E Street Band guitarist) Steven Van Zandt who sends them out on a quite different sort of tour. Like their audience, they have become visibly aging baby boomers (check out the Playbill photo of the four in their youthful prime). Yet their onstage energy, and the driving spirit of their music, seem untouched by time, even if their peace-and-love message and psychedelic backdrop might prompt you to dig out your go-go boots and love beads.

Though primarily a greatest hits concert, the show is infused with video sequences that mixes archival footage full of shimmying and twisting with key flashback scenes played by actors, and current oral history narration spoken mostly by Felix Cavaliere.

The “original four” remain exuberant performers: Cavaliere (the power keyboardist whose voice is still in terrific form); Dino Danelli (the hard-driving drummer), Gene Cornish (the formidable, soulful guitarist) and Eddie Brigati (the impish singer and tambourine slapper whose voice is frayed, but who dances around the stage with infectious joy and energy).

Listening to “Good Lovin’,” “Lonely Too Long,” “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure” and “People Got to be Free,” the soundtrack of the ’60s comes flooding back, even if much of the show is overly amplified and many of the lyrics (simple and repetitive as they might be) get lost. The elaborate projections and light show (the work of Marc Brickman and Anthony Fransen) also take you back in time with their Peter Max-like aesthetic.

The show’s one glaring misstep comes with a video reenactment of Eddie and his brother as boys, in an argument that ends with a gunshot. Sure, in the 1950s it was probably a toy cap gun, but in 2013, the Chicago audience hears a far more disturbing sort of pop.

Nostalgia prevails here, yet today’s Eddie is a realist, sardonically noting: “We thought, for a second, that there would be no more fear, hate, war or prejudice.”

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic



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