The first time Dino Danelli heard Steven Van Zandt talk about reuniting The Rascals was in the early ’80s — but it wouldn’t be the last.
At the time, The Rascals drummer was touring Europe with Van Zandt — best known as the guitarist in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band — in the first incarnation of Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul, which included another Rascals veteran, keyboardist and vocalist Felix Cavaliere.
The Rascals, also known as The Young Rascals, formed in 1965 in New Jersey and pioneered the blue-eyed soul sound with such hits as “Good Lovin’ ” and “A Beautiful Morning,” but had been broken up for a decade at that point.
“I remember back when I was with Steve in Europe, he said, ‘You know, I’m gonna get you guys back together if it kills me,’ ” Danelli said recently from Detroit.
“At that time I didn’t see any way that could happen — we’d been broken up for a while, and we weren’t really interested in getting back to doing any type of reunion thing. So I just said, ‘Yeah, Stevie, yeah. Yeah. Try your best.’ ”
And for the next three decades, Van Zandt did just that.
’Once Upon a Dream Starring The Rascals’
When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany
How Much: $78, $62.50, $48.50, $32.50
More Info: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com
“Every five or 10 years he would try something, but nothing happened until three years ago, when he came up with the right thing,” Danelli said. “Everybody was ready, in the right state of mind for it. He had the idea of putting us together to do something fresh, and we were all interested.”
That turned out to be a multimedia production written by Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen, titled “Once Upon A Dream Starring The Rascals,” which ties together old interview and performance footage, re-enactments of the band’s history and a 30-song performance by all four original members of the band — Danelli, Cavaliere, vocalist Eddie Brigati and guitarist Gene Cornish.
The show, which marks the original Rascals lineup’s first extended public reunion since 1972, has been on the road since its initial Broadway run at the Richard Rodgers Theatre from April 15 through May 5, and heads to the Palace Theatre on Sunday night.
“It’s a phenomenon; it’s something that’s higher than it’s ever been,” Brigati said in a separate interview.
“We have to thank Steven Van Zandt, the patron saint of the world of rock ’n’ roll. He’s a dear friend and a super worker; he knows every note, he wrestles alligators and he’s got it all together. He’s really the person behind it all. What he did — he added everything we needed. This is the highest production of all these songs in my history.”
The show came together after a successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $120,000 in October of last year.
But the actual reunion of The Rascals came about through a one-off performance the band gave at an April 2010 benefit for cancer organization the Kristen Ann Carr Fund in New York City, which featured Van Zandt joining the band for the closing performance of “Good Lovin’.”
“Everybody said ‘yes’ kind of almost immediately, and it was the beginning,” Brigati said. “We had a rehearsal and it was loud and crazy and last-minute, and it was wonderful. And [Van Zandt] knew he wanted it to go on — he always felt that this generation needed to hear The Rascals songs.”
In the show, the original quartet is supported by bassist Mark Prentice and second keyboardist Mark Alexander, along with background singers Sharon Bryant, Angela Clemmons and Dennis Collins. The story follows the band’s entire career through narration, interviews and re-enactments on a large screen behind the band.
“This is a different thing, totally — a concert is song after song after song; this stops and starts all the time, goes from here to there with screens, with live action,” Danelli said.
“It gives us a chance — for me personally, I don’t know how the other guys feel about it, but I love the connection between the audience and myself, because it has been a very different connection. Our huge screen in back of us lights up the whole audience, and we’re kind of in silhouette, so you can barely see us. . . . We’re in the dark, and I’m being able to watch people react — I’ve never been able to do that in all the years I’ve been playing.”
The length of the show has also allowed the band to dig deep into its back catalog and play some of the lesser-known cuts from its nine studio albums.
“There’s some real great songs — we’ve been playing a song called ‘It’s Love,’ which not a lot of people know,” Danelli said.
“It’s kind of a jazz fusion kind of thing. What makes it so great is, it’s a love song, but on the screen we do the opposite — we’re playing all kinds of footage from the Vietnam War, this beautiful-looking color footage, but it’s fields of fire. It’s a war screen, all kinds of stuff that go against the beauty of the love song. It’s very intense to watch, and people are blown away by that.”
The Rascals debuted as The Young Rascals on Atlantic with the 1965 single “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” and found major success with the No. 1 single “Good Lovin’ ” the next year. A string of albums and singles followed, but Brigati, who along with Cavaliere wrote most of the band’s songs, left the group after its contract with Atlantic expired in 1970. Cornish followed in 1971, and by 1972 the band had split completely.
“We had a five-year contract, and we did seven albums — we did over a half a million miles in touring, a thousand performances or show-ups,” Brigati said.
“We were kind of exhausted, and our management was lacking. The Rascals’ energy — our performance and our production was very powerful, and that didn’t weaken until the end. The audience was always a powerful audience, but it just wasn’t managed; it wasn’t nurtured. If it had been, we may have had a different ending, but it took a while to sort out.”
All four members continued in music, and in 1988 Cavaliere, Cornish and Danelli reunited for the Atlantic Records 40th Anniversary Celebration, subsequently touring for a year. The next time all four members would reunite would be for their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 1997, where Van Zandt presented the award (and was subsequently cast in HBO hit series “The Sopranos” as a result).
“You know, it was awkward to get together, but [Van Zandt] kind of ironed it out,” Brigati said. “He said, ‘Speak to me, and I’ll speak to everybody else’ — he was the consigliere, so to speak. He did iron a lot of things out; he leveled the playing field and brought it to a point where it soon became obvious it was gonna be something greater.”
Reach Gazette reporter Brian McElhiney at 395-3111 or email@example.com.