The Rascals Bring Their Steven Van Zandt Produced Show to Philly

The Rascals Once Upon a Dream
The Rascals are currently on tour with their Once Upon a Dream show

When socially conscious, 60s soul pop innovators The Rascals reunited in 2010 at the urging of Steven Van Zandt (Springsteen guitarist, The Sopranos cast member, Sirius XM host), it wasn’t just because “Little Stevie” liked the band that splintered in 1970. Van Zandt knew that The Rascals were one of the lone U.S. acts to break through the British Invasion of the early 60s, and he believed them to be the key to all American pop that followed (including his E Street Band). So, Van Zandt scripted and directed Once Upon a Dream, and brought it to Broadway in April 2013. This week Philadelphia’s Academy of Music (240 S Broad Street) plays host to the show, with one performance remaining, on Saturday, June 8, 2013.

Created with lighting designer/co-director Marc Brickman, Van Zandt’s Once Upon a Dream uses the original Rascals – vocalist Eddie Brigati, singing B-3 organist/composer Felix Cavaliere, drummer Dino Danelli, and guitarist Gene Cornish (along with several background vocalists and instrumentalists) – as the live centerpiece to his tale of how the sounds of the 60s changed America’s musical and social landscape. The Rascals music was black soul turned psychedelic with dreamy harmonic hints of their doo wop origins (Brigati’s in particular) on songs like “Groovin.” The Rascals lyrics had messages that spoke to the civil rights movement for African Americans and equality for women ("People Got to Be Free"), as well as to the intimacy of interpersonal relationships (the gorgeous “How Can I Be Sure”). And remember too, that the Rascals spoke to and for all the Italian guys on the East Coast who never had a pop band – other than fellow Jerseyites, the Four Seasons – to represent them. Perhaps, that’s why Vincent “Big Pussy” Pastore was tapped by Van Zandt to tape the narration for Once Upon a Dream?

With the backdrop of lava lamp-like images, historic re-enactments of their past glories, and taped interviews with each member, The Rascals evolution unfolds slowly, as they run through 30 of their finest songs. Brigati nearly brought tears to my eyes and that of the dozen wise guys around me, when he crooned through the dreamy haze of “How Can I Be Sure.” And Cavaliere, the guy who brought his blue-eyed soulful vocals and the big sound of the B-3 organ to pop, was a multi-tasking marvel through “I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore," and "You Better Run." More of a concert than a theatrical production, Once Upon a Dream shows that after 43 years of being away, The Rascals still have the power to rock out effervescently while reflecting their influence on 60s music.

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Posted on Friday, June 7, 2013