By Madeline Orton
The lights go down in the Richard Rodgers Theatre as Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish take the Broadway stage to kick off their first run of concerts since the band broke up more than 40 years ago. And, for the next two hours, the ’60s are in full swing.
The Rascals got their start in Garfield. With chart-topping hits like “Good Lovin’,” “Groovin’” and “A Beautiful Morning,” they quickly made their mark on the music scene — and on a teenage Steven Van Zandt.
“They were the first soul band, what we called ‘blue-eyed soul band,’ meaning white guys playing black music,” said “Once Upon a Dream” playwright, producer and director Van Zandt. “And they were very influential. To this day, you can trace the E Street Band directly back to The Rascals.”
The Rascals’ influence was apparent in Van Zandt’s introduction at their 1997 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, and when he called asking the band to reunite one more time for a cancer benefit in 2010, they obliged despite some hard feelings.
“That was really an amazing act, and I was thinking of sending him to the Gaza Strip,” laughed Felix Cavalier, keyboard/vocals. “Because seriously, not that it was anywhere near as monumental as that, but it was not easy to do and he did it somehow. And I thank him.”
“Stevie talked us all into showing up and playing together and we did an evening, and we just loved it so much that we said let’s think about doing this full-time,” said Dino Danelli, drums.
Van Zandt began writing the script for “Once Upon a Dream” — a show he ultimately wrote, produced and directed.
“It’s a way of keeping them together — writing this show,” Van Zandt said.
The opening night audience included Tommy James of Tommy James and The Shondells, Sopranos’ Creator David Chase, actor Vincent Pastore — the show’s narrator — and The Midtown Men, along with Bruce Springstein.
The audience also included hundreds of other fans, many of which had seen The Rascals when they first toured.
“I grew up with The Rascals, first rock and roll concert in Brooklyn when I was 13 years old. The best. Just the best. Forty years later, nobody can do it like them,” said Marcia Luskin of the Bronx.
“When the curtain drops, our fans and our people who love us see us for the first time and they go, ‘Wow, they’re really here.’ But The Rascals also say about the fans, ‘Wow, you’re really here,’” said Gene Cornish, guitar.
And despite the time passed, not much has changed.
“There’s a kind of symbiosis between us that never left, which is hard to believe because it’s a long time ago, but once it’s there, it’s there,” Cavaliere said.
“I knew they’d be OK, but boy, it was just like when I saw them at The Phonebooth 40 years ago,” said radio personality “Cousin Brucie” Morrow. “They have the soul, they have the beat, they have the rhythm of the people. And The Rascals are back.”
“Once Upon a Dream” runs through May 5 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Major funding for NJ Arts is provided by The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the F.M. Kirby Foundation.