The Rascals are back, at last. You’re too young to remember them, exactly, but you know their songs: “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long,” “Good Lovin’,” “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “People Got to Be Free,” and “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” were all top 10 or better. The quartet was the blue eyed soul group on the famous Atlantic R&B roster, labelmates with Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Percy Sledge. Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati were the Lennon and McCartney of Atlantic until they were not; their fall out was epic. But in their day, the Rascals were glorious. Their greatest hits album, “TimePeace,” was in every college dorm room for years and years.
Now you must run, not walk, to the Capitol Theater in nearby Port Chester, New York (just 35 mins by train), where the Rascals have at last been reunited by Little Steven van Zandt and his wife Maureen producing “Once Upon a Dream.” The original four are alive and more than kicking in this two hour retrospective that includes video, interviews, and of course magnificent live performances of all the hits by Felix, Eddie, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish with a sensational back up band and singers. It’s all been cleverly staged and assembled by van Zandt and Marc Brickman. There’s a clever narration by Vinny Pastore aka Big Pussy from “The Sopranos.”
For last night’s opening show, the crowd included another rocker of the era, Tommy James, and actor Robert Wuhl, LA Dodgers announcer Charlie Steiner, music publisher John Titta, famed promoter Ron Delsener, legacy singer Vaneese Thomas, musician Steve Gadd, the one and only Tommy Mottola, and actor Chazz Palminteri.
Considering that they haven’t played together for 40 years (with a couple of recent one off exceptions), the Rascals–once the Young Rascals,and joked Robert Wuhl, soon to be the Little Rascals–were pretty “wascally.” It’s hard to imagine a tighter, funkier sound out of band half their age. The songs, originally produced and arranged by Atlantic’s geniuses Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd, remain little works of art. Cavaliere and Briganti’s vocals don’t have to be smooth; they’re as full of mellifluous grit as they were in 1968. They’re also full of so much personality, you could say they are and were the white Temptations.
This is the time to catch this show, while it’s in its cult moment. “Once Upon A Dream” plays shows this weekend and next. Then it moves into a long pre-Broadway circuit for fine tuning. There won’t be a lot to do, just some trimming and tightening. “Once Upon a Dream” tells the Rascals’ story. But it also depends entirely on the music for its ultimate success. Maybe because the group was away so long, everything sounds fresh and new. You just wonder why there’s nothing like this now on the charts. We’ve been lonely too long.