The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream - Orpheum Theatre - 10/14/2013
For 40 years--a pop music eternity--the four original Rascals, among the only '60s bands still with all its original members, have been at war with each other in various combinations. For too long The New Rascals (with Dino Danielli and Gene Cornish) and Felix Cavaliere's Rascals have toured in competing units, interacting with each other only through lawyers and lawsuits.
When I interviewed Felix Cavaliere for New Times in 1994, he said something that would break any longtime Rascals fan's heart: "No, we do not get along... We go around talking about peace, love, and harmony, and getting along, and we don't even do it amongst ourselves. We failed as human beings."
The band's internecine squabbles meant never showing a united front when it came to keeping the band's name alive or capitalizing on their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I knew of a Rascals superfan who, while trying to run a Rascals fan site, eventually just gave up trying to get them to cooperate on what verbiage to use on a landing page.
The miracle is that Steven Van Zandt, after decades of trying, finally succeeded in reuniting them--and for a charity concert, after they'd squabbled over money and refused million-dollar offers. That set the right tone for Once Upon a Dream, that the four Rascals patched things up for all the right reasons: For the music, for their legacy and because it was about fucking time.
When Once Upon a Dream had its Broadway run, it was at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York, just across the street from where Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati and Gene Cornish first met at the old Peppermint Lounge, where they soon enlisted Dino Danielli and became the blue-eyed soul Beatles for the next five years. That opening night felt like a homecoming concert; this opening night, at the Orpheum just five months later, seemed more like a consolidation of the band's gathering strength as a unit.
The most noticeable difference is how Eddie Brigati, the one Rascal who hasn't been touring the past 40 odd years, seemed more confident of what he could still do with his voice, exploring his low register and hitting notes significantly higher than he managed at the Manhattan premiere. When he performed "How Can I Be Sure" there, he got a standing ovation largely because it's a great song. Here, the standing ovation was because he sang the shit out of it, giving it a rendering as great as you remembered it.
This show is not strictly a concert--it's an audio-visual presentation where the Rascals tell the band's story on video in little narrations that approximate the individual guys' personalities. Occasionally the band is represented by young actors dramatizing key moments in the group's career. The first half of the show is heavy on history, and contained mostly material from the first two years of the band.
My only complaint is the same as it was in New York--a feeling that some of these earlier numbers were played what felt like 20 beats per minute slower than they should have been. Maybe that was a compromise between band members used to playing songs a certain tempo for decades or a concession to an older audience, but the one word you don't want to use in describing classics like "Lonely Too Long" or "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" is plodding.
There is a 1967 clip of The Rascals on The Ed Sullivan Show playing "Mickey's Monkey/Turn On Your Love Light" where the band practically levitates, pushing this medley to its climax. To expect the same urgency now is wrongheaded, but with the band's voices and chops up to the challenge, it seems a shame not to push some these classics a little harder and faster. When the band did dial it all in perfectly, as they did on "Come on Up," "You Better Run" and the only Cavaliere/Cornish composition, "Do You Feel It," you get the best approximation of what the band's earliest gigs at The Choo Choo Club and The Barge might've sounded like.