By Lee Zimmerman
The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream
Hard Rock Live at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
May 24, 2013
The Rascals: Once Upon A Dream is a fusion of different forms — part concert, part musical stage, part documentary, part history lesson and mostly, a whole lotta fun. The emphasis is as much on the visual elements — the amazing light shows, backgrounds, informative talking heads and, yes, the prerequisite vintage video clips with specially staged dramatic sequences played by younger actors — as it is on the music, which is why the show qualified for Broadway selling out night after night.
Of course, the music is essential, and with no less than 30 tracks represented by the original quartet itself, the songs inevitably come front and center. This is a Hard Rock production after all. And what amazing music it is — songs like “Groovin’,” “Good Lovin’,” “”People Got To Be Free,” “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore,” — music that helped form the soundtrack of the ‘60s and remain. even today, permanently embedded in the memory of those for whom the 60s aren’t simply an era, but a actual age as well.
And I’m most happy to report that the band — the original foursome, Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish, along with a trio of back-up singers, a second keyboardist and a bass player — perform those tunes with the same power and passion as they were originally presented. Indeed, the delivery is wholly centered on them. Unlike the Beacch Boys reunion shows, there’s no cast of thousands for augmentation, no audio enhancement, no nothing… except each member performing at the height of their prowess, as if… as if… they were 45 years in the past.
Of course, it’s not 1965. It’s 2013, and who would have thought that after four decades the band would reconvene and still sound so strong. Cavaliere and Brigati still rank as two of the greatest white soul singers of all time and their vocal skills haven’t let them down. Danelli is undeniably one of the best rock drummers of all time — we’re including Keith Moon, Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell for comparison — and his twirling drumsticks and remarkably solid grooves are still a joy to behold. And Cornish, who sometimes seemed overshadowed by the prominence of Cavaliere’s Hammond organ, ups his evaluation considerably, cutting swaths of melody on his ax, wailing away with relentless riffs and supple leads that prove, even at age 69, he’s as agile as most players half his age.
Indeed, the same thing could be said about each of them. The Rascals are one hot band. and damn if Eddie doesn’t still have the energy and stage moves as he prances around shaking his shakers and ever-present tambourine.
The backstory finally gives them the credit due. Prerecorded interviews with each of the musicians find them talking directly to the camera, sometimes relating back and forth, occasionally segueing seamlessly into the musical numbers. The audience learns of their origins, gets their reflections of their glory days at the height of fame and success (including comments about an apparent undiminished amount of groupies and their absolute allegiance to civil rights), and ultimately the mess caused by mismanagement which eventually led to their break-up at the dawn of the ‘70s. Along the way, several heretofore obscure facts come to light.We learn that the Beatles actually opened for the Rascals in Sweden in October, 1963. And that an auto accident nearly cost Eddie his life and that he went into a coma that nearly cost him his career.
Of course, the songs still stand out, as glorious and exhilarating, as soulful and rocking as ever. The infectious grooves of “Good Lovin’, “It’s Wonderful” and “People Got To Be Free,” the easy sway of “Groovin’ and “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” the rocking rhythms of “Come On Up” and “I Ain’t Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore” all sound as immediate now as they did then. Add in a number of lesser known songs, with no less than 30 tunes and over two hours of stage time, and it becomes sumptuous sampling of the Rascals’ remarkable catalog.
Kudos also have to go to producer, director, stage designer, video director and lighting designer Marc Brickman, whose incredible visual effects make this the spectacular presentation it is. The dazzling colors and wide array of backdrops helped capture the band during each transition, literally converting the Hard Rock stage into a vintage psychedelic light show, a converted train depot or an ongoing series of backdrops that illuminate each song. Likewise, the special effect are sensational, from the realistic seagulls that glide through the background during “What Is the Reason” or the school of fish that float behind the band as they playing, appropriately,
Too Many Fish in the Sea.” And when that screen falls away at the beginning, following the filmed introduction by Ed Sullivan and we get the first glimpse of the band lit in black and white, it’s more than memorable. It’s simply riveting, it’s dazzling, it’s everything a Broadway spectacle should be.
Which is why I’m tempted to depart from the usual concert review and put myself in the guise of that famous critic Clive Barnes. I’d sum up this review by saying something like, “Incredibly impressive… A must see!” But since I’m not Clive Barnes, and merely a lowly music critic, I’ll simply say this” “It was awesome, It was ultra fab. And shame on you if you allow yourself to miss it.