“The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” represents a clever hybrid: a rock concert with a documentary-style storyline behind it. The rock band is ’60s superstars The Rascals, best known for “Good Lovin,’ ” “Groovin,’ ” and “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” to name just a few of their hummable hits.
While the approach to “Once Upon a Dream” seems inspired by the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys,” the four original members of The Rascals, unlike the Four Seasons, are still ready to rock, 40 years after they last played together. For this two-hour concert they not only sound terrific, they look like they’re having a blast.
The Rascals — composer and keyboard player Felix Cavaliere, lyricist and singer Eddie Brigati, guitar player Gene Cornish, and drummer Dino Danelli — appeared on the scene in the mid-1960s and were able to survive the British Invasion of such bands as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones because of their soulful sound, punctuated by Cavaliere’s vocals and his distinctive Hammond B3 organ sound. Although Cornish says The Rascals were a great cover band, he credits Cavaliere with the creative ambition that pushed them to write such hits as “How Can I Be Sure,” “You Better Run,” and “People Got to Be Free.”
Steven Van Zandt, longtime Rascals fan and member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, has scripted interviews with the band members so that they can each give their perspective on how the group got together and created so many hits. The mini-interviews are interspersed throughout the concert, and provide context for the songs the group performs. The title of the show, “Once Upon a Dream,” comes from the band’s 1968 album of the same name, but it also offers a frame for the story of how these four individuals, who approached the music from different angles — rockabilly, soul, doo wop, and jazz — together were able to create a magical sound.
In addition to the interviews, videos from the turbulent time period, as well as psychedelic backdrops, create the atmosphere for the storytelling. When there’s a need to re-create a historic moment, like being skeptical about recording spoken words in a song, as they were in 1964 for “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” we see a film clip of actors posing as the young versions of The Rascals. Later, the actors return in a film clip that glosses over the reasons the band broke up and, perhaps more importantly, why it took 40 years for them to reunite.
But, ultimately, who cares? What’s amazing is seeing these performers rock out to their songs. The videos may provide some helpful background and transitions, but the focus on stage is the band and these players. There’s not much in the way of a set, but both drummer Danelli and keyboardist Cavaliere are on raised platforms, and the four original members are augmented by three backup singers, a bass player, and an additional keyboard player (who covers all the horn sounds as well).
There’s no need for bells and whistles here because these are not only talented musicians but great showmen, too. Although Danelli may have toned down the drumstick acrobatics that made him famous, watching his crisp, gracefully choreographed technique is absolutely mesmerizing. Cavaliere can still wrench emotion from a song and that B3 organ, Brigati can still hit nearly all of those notes, and Cornish is both playful and proficient on all of his guitar licks.
“Once Upon a Dream” might have been just a nostalgic trip if these musicians weren’t so good. Watching them enjoy every minute of it made it easy for the audience to have fun, too.Terry Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.