Remember the Rascals? Maybe not, if you were born after, say, 1958. Starting out as the Young Rascals, the quartet led by Felix Cavaliere produced some of the sweetest, best-natured, soul-tinged rock songs of the 60s, including “Beautiful Morning,” “Groovin’,” and “People Got to Be Free.” They held on to their East Coast urban ethnic roots well into the Beatles era. Even their psychedelia feels like it was created by people who’ve spent time listening to Frankie Lymon.
But the band split up in 1972 and, as the members themselves say, missed the next 40 years of pop history. The youngest of them just turned 67. Still, Steven Van Zandt—Little Steven, of E Street Band and Sopranos fame—decided it’d be a good idea to build a show around them. Not merely around their music—around them. He wrote, codirected, and coproduced a “bioconcert” (i.e., biographical concert) that has the four original Rascals playing dozens of their songs in between video segments telling their story. The result, Once Upon a Dream, is playing through Sunday, November 10, at the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Randolph.
It coulda been a disaster. And, indeed, some of the “bio” part of the bioconcert can get hokey (actors in wigs, playing band members at various turning points in their lives), simplistic (drummer Dino Danelli on the Vietnam/Summer of Love confluence: “It was the birth of consciousness and the death of innocence. It got complicated.”), evasive (the Rascals blaming their disintegration on bad management), or just plain unclear.
The concert part, though, is a triumph. Not only can the Rascals still play, but they project the delight in playing that made their first incarnation so much fun. Cavaliere, in particular, is soulfully regal behind what appears to be a Hammond B-3 organ, looking like an odd kind of cross between Carlos Santana and late-period Abbie Hoffman. The band get solid help from a backup quintet comprising three singers, a keyboardist, and bassist/music director Mark Prentice. (The preshow and intermission music is exceptional, too, including idiosyncratic old hits like “Game of Love” by Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders.)
Van Zandt was so right.
Once Upon a Dream
Through 11/10: Tue-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat 8 PM, Sun 2 PM, Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, 800-775-2000, broadwayinchicago.com, $45-$75.