It wasn't long ago that Steven Van Zandt was primarily known for backing Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band, but now the rock star, "Sopranos" actor, host and music supervisor can emphasize the writer-director-producer portion of his résumé, thanks to The Rascals' reunion shows this month at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester.
"We wanted to do something new, do something innovative, and do something that nobody had ever seen before, because that's how much I think of this group," Van Zandt, 62, told Newsday Westchester last week.
From Dec. 13 to 15 and from Dec. 20 to 22, The Cap will host the Rascals' first public performances in more than four decades, and the shows will do more than showcase the rockers' chart-toppers from the '60s ("Good Lovin', "Groovin'" and "People Got to Be Free"). Van Zandt has scripted a supplemental theatrical element called "Once Upon a Dream" that uses narration, archival footage and filmed re-enactments to tout Eddie Brigati, Pelham native Felix Cavaliere, Gene Cornish and Dino Danelli's influence on music history.
The band broke up in 1970, but Van Zandt's fandom never wavered. In 1997, he delivered the Rascals' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech. At a private charity function in 2010, he reunited all four original members, and joined Springsteen in jamming with them on "Good Lovin'" at that event.
Now's the perfect time and format for that reunion to go public, according to Van Zandt.
"They're one of the greatest bands of all time," he said. "It occurred to me that most people haven't seen them, obviously, and most people who do know their music may not know much about the band. They had 18 hits in five years, and three No. 1 records, so they certainly had a substantial impact, as far as the culture [is concerned]. But, there's a whole generation -- or two or three -- that may not know them as well as they should."
Once The Rascals agreed to reunite in public, Van Zandt needed multimedia expertise and a venue capable of staging the "biggest thing I've ever done." That's when he consulted with stage lighting guru Marc Brickman, who recommended he speak with Peter Shapiro of The Capitol Theatre.
"It just so happened that Marc Brickman was called by Peter Shapiro to install the lighting in this theater he was restoring -- from 1926, magnificent -- and Marc called me and said, 'I found the place, and I think I found the guy [who can help],' and so, I met with Peter," Van Zandt said. "He was just terrifically enthusiastic, and it turned out to be the perfect venue."
With the first three nights of the engagement at The Cap already sold out, Van Zandt said he thinks "Once Upon a Dream" could have staying power beyond its local run.
"I want to take it on the road," he said. "I want to take it to different cities. ... and then head towards Broadway at some point."
But even if The Rascals' run ends this month at The Cap, Van Zandt isn't exactly going to sit around and wait for work. From an entertainment perspective, there's little "Little Steven" isn't doing these days.
Dec. 21 marks the theatrical release of “Not Fade Away,” a coming-of-age film about teens who form a band after seeing The Rolling Stones in 1964. Van Zandt served as the movie’s music supervisor, curating a soundtrack with more than two dozen classic rock and Motown hits, ranging from the Stones and Bob Dylan to James Brown and Bo Diddley.
The movie’s written and directed by Van Zandt’s old boss David Chase, the creator and showrunner of HBO’s “The Sopranos,” which featured Van Zandt as Tony Soprano’s loyal mob soldier Silvio Dante. Van Zandt said he was able to convince many musicians to reduce their licensing fees because of the entertainment industry’s respect for Chase’s use of music on “The Sopranos.”
“All their representatives, and the bands and artists themselves, said, ‘You know what? We’re into this,’” Van Zandt said.
Much like Chase, he doesn’t dare offer an interpretation of the ambiguous conclusion of “The Sopranos.”
“In [a Vanity Fair] article, I sort of gave a definitive answer to the ending,” Van Zandt said, laughing. “People asked me, ‘How did the show end?’ And I said to them, ‘I’ll tell you exactly how the show ended: The director said, ‘Cut!’ And the actors went home.’”
Less ambiguous is the enduring success of Springsteen and the E Street Band. Just days before Van Zandt would learn that their band’s latest album, “Wrecking Ball,” yielded three Grammy Award nominations, he reflected on a year in which Springsteen and the E Street Band mourned the death of their bandmate and fought their way through it in the studio.
“After spending six months just talking about, ‘How are we going to do this without Clarence Clemons?’, [we realized] you don’t just replace him and move on; it’s impossible,” Van Zandt said. “So, we had to completely reinvent ourselves, and I’m proud of what we ended up doing with the E Street Band.”
Van Zandt can cite success on stage, on screen and behind the scenes of both, but he’s spent years in vain trying to find a network that will adapt his music-variety podcast, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” for television. “Literally for years and years, I’ve been very close, several times, and that’s been my No. 1 frustration,” he said. “I’m going to do the pilot myself. I’m not going to wait around for someone to finance it anymore.”
Despite the passion projects that consume his time, he said he’ll postpone one or two if the right people ring him up.
IF YOU GO
Who: The Rascals and “Once Upon a Dream”
When: 8 p.m. Thur.-Sat., Dec. 13-15 and Dec. 20-22 (doors at 6:30 p.m.)
Info: The Capitol Theatre, 149 Westchester Ave., Port Chester; 914-934-9362; www.thecapitoltheatre.com; $65-$135 for general admission, $499 for VIP package; audience members must be 18 or older