“Once Upon a Dream starring the Rascals” seemed likely to remain a just a dream, but it happened on Sunday night at the Palace Theatre. Before Little Steven Van Zandt applied his considerable clout to reuniting the 1960s-70s hitmakers, the Rascals — singer Eddie Brigati, keyboardist/singer Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli — had hardly played together since splitting in 1970. Van Zandt also applied his love for vintage rock and his production skills to create a fond mixed-media portrayal. With projected interviews and reenactments behind the band playing their hits, it was so impressive and effective in humanizing their story that it suggested every band of this stature should have such a tribute.
However, it also underlined the fact that few bands matched the Rascals’ stature, then or now. The Rascals first emulated the sound of East Coast soul music; then adopted its passionate messaging of equality and self-determination.
Musically, keyboardist-singer Felix Cavaliere carried Sunday’s show, though singer Eddie Brigati added energy in motion as well as vocals of emotion while drummer Dino Danelli rocked the house and guitarist Gene Cornish both soloed powerfully and bridged the beats to the melodies. Three singers and two players filled out the arrangements.
The first set told the Rascals’ story to when they came into their own as an original creative force after previously echoing the stars they emulated. “Mickey’s Monkey” and “Slow Down” helped recall their cover-band days, though they sprinkled in some of their hits, out of sequence, including “I’ve Been Lonely too Long” and “You Better Run.” Before the break, they gave a nice taste of what was to come with “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Any More” and “Good Lovin’.” The second set was hitsville, and trouble, and it reminded how brief was their peak.
They started with “Love is a Beautiful Thing,” “Groovin’” and “Do You Feel It.” They gave each tune its due without cutting them into medleys. It was honest, sincere and the boomer-age crowd just devoured the music. Brigati’s big moment was “How Can I Be Sure,” a tad wobbly, but he was invested in it all the way. With “People Got to be Free,” the show turned topical, just as the Rascals had in 1969 when they refused to play Woodstock, objecting to the scarcity of black bands on the bill. They decried Vietnam, racism and inequality and lamented how little has changed since. And they aired family laundry, Brigati taking the blame for the Rascals’ split and crediting Cavaliere for honing the band’s ambitions.
These revelations felt as uncomfortable as sincere, offering insight into the pain they must have felt as things fell apart, right at their peak.
They found vindication and unity again, however, thanks to Van Zandt, and took solace in their music. In its best moments, the show succeeded in inviting the crowd to do the same. And it often worked wonderfully well, especially when bolstered by spectacular visuals, the equal of anything I’ve seen onstage in years. However, ably performed by the original guys, the songs were the thing — a marvelous, strong and hopeful thing.