'Rascals: Once Upon a Dream' review: Groovin'
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Sometimes, breaking new ground has its disadvantages.
Because "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream" is the first "BioConcert" -- a term its writer and producer Steven Van Zandt coined to describe the combination of biography and rock concert -- it takes some time to get used to it. The Rascals -- singer Eddie Brigati, singer-organist Felix Cavaliere, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli -- perform live, but they also tell the band's story by talking directly to the audience through videos shown on a big screen behind them. There also are videos where actors dramatize pivotal moments in the band's career, while Van Zandt's friend Vincent Pastore narrates.
It's disconcerting at first, especially on opening night, when sound issues made it difficult to hear Brigati sing the first two songs. Once it gets going, though, the heart of The Rascals' story and, more importantly, their music, starts to win out.
By the time the band reaches its breakthrough hit, "Good Lovin', " about halfway through, those in the audience were ready to party, up and out of their seats, singing along with Cavaliere. It's a moment of triumph both on-screen and off. In the video, the band has landed a No. 1 after being discovered by promoter Sid Bernstein at the East End club The Barge, where they became the house band. In real life, hearing the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers perform their classic after not playing a concert together in more than four decades is also a thrill.
That's followed, though, by a second half where the two halves of the show start to work against each other. While the band starts to get stronger, with Cavaliere knocking out one soulful vocal after another and Brigati offering a showstopping version of "How Can I Be Sure," the story starts to weaken.
The band glosses over its breakup and its separation since 1970, offering only vague explanations involving drugs and the bitter competition of the music business. Rather than avoiding the real story, "Once Upon a Dream" would have been better off just sticking to the music, especially when The Rascals were entering their strongest period, marked by social activism and the classic "People Got to Be Free."
A reunion of The Rascals would have been great. A musical about their career could also be great. The pieces of "Once Upon a Dream" are all pretty good. However, there are just too many of them at times, and they don't always fit together the way they should. That said, hearing Cavaliere sing makes a lot of these issues forgivable.
WHAT "The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream"
WHERE Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
INFO $35-$150, 877-250-2929; rascalsbway.com
BOTTOM LINE Part concert, part musical -- all Rascally