Steven Van Zandt's Broadway Hit Once Upon a Dream Showcases "the Real Rascals"
It was the mid '60s and the British Invasion was well underway. Aside from a handful of intrepid defenders - the Beach Boys, the Turtles, the Byrds, and the Lovin' Spoonful in particular - it was lonely on the front lines of the American resistance. Fortunately, there was another band in those ranks, as well, a group from New Jersey. It was borne from the ashes of harmony act Joey Dee and the Starliters, whose instrumental ensemble included, at one time or another, Jimi Hendrix, Charles Neville, and future actor Joe Pesci.
Originally dubbed the Rascals - then the Young Rascals after it was discovered there was already a group called the Harmonica Rascals - the foursome included singer and keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, singer Eddie Brigati, drummer Dino Danelli, and guitarist Gene Cornish. They wrote and recorded a string of top ten hits that made them a steady fixture on the U.S. and Canadian pop charts and helped define the mix of rock and R&B that came to be called "blue-eyed soul." A phenomenal string of hits that took them to the end of the decade - like "Good Lovin'," "Groovin'," "People Got To be Free," "How Can I Be Sure," and "A Beautiful Morning"- resonate even today.
Although they were eventually able to shorten their handle back to the Rascals, the band began to disintegrate with the onslaught of the '70s. Last year was the first formal reunion of the original foursome via a multimedia concert performance and theatrical spectacle dubbed Once Upon a Dream.
Produced by devoted fan, former Soprano, and E Street band member, Steven Van Zandt, the show's Broadway debut garnered critical raves and sold out seats. The show plays South Florida prior to embarking on a nationwide tour. New Times spoke with guitarist Cornish about his reaction to the Rascals' return. His enthusiasm was infectious.
New Times: How are you enjoying this revival so far?
Gene Cornish: Oh, my God. We're on cloud nine! Steven Van Zandt has really put the thing together correctly. He created what he calls a bio-concert. It's kind of puzzling to the people on Broadway because it's not a play, but it's not a concert. We have a 50 foot screen behind us with pre-filmed segments of all four of us talking to the audience between songs. We never leave the stage for two hours and ten minutes. We play 30 songs. This isn't the Jersey Boys. This is the real Rascals.
We do have young fellows depicting us when we were young, and a couple of segments where we talk about our legacy, and how we fought, how we grew, our successes, our family ties, our reverence and respect for R&B music and civil rights. In between the songs, there are little vignettes on the screen and then people finally get to know where the Rascals came from, and where they disappeared to all of a sudden, like a trap door, boom, bam.
How did Steven Van Zandt become involved in this project?
He became enamored with us back when he was 16 years old. He saw us at the Keystone Roller Rink in Jersey. As a matter of fact, Bruce Springsteen was there too, but they didn't know each other. And Steven says, still to this day, it was one of the best concerts he has ever seen in his life. He was always a fan and a supporter. He tried to get us together back in the '80s, but it wasn't time yet.