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Concert Reviews:
The Rascals' "Dream" offers good lovin' at the Fox Theatre


Posted: Friday, November 15, 2013

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DETROIT -- You don't often attend a theater production where the voice of the director -- in this case Steven Van Zandt, doing his best Silvio Dante from "The Sopranos" -- encourages you to leave your cell phone on and "do whatever da f*** you want."

Then again, the Rascals' "Once Upon a Dream" isn't exactly a typical theater piece.

The two-and-a-half-hour production -- which plays Friday, Nov. 15 at the Fox Theatre after a private benefit performance for JARC on Thursday -- is more theatrical than theater, a hybrid experience that's mostly concert with extra elements thrown-in, including narration from the band members themselves on a 50-foot-wide video screen, extensive period footage and graphic, and a handful of dramatizations starring actors in the Rascals' roles. All of that provides valuable context to the Rascals' story, illuminating the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame quartet's experience in the early days of rock, amidst the British Invasion and Motown, and within the 60s counterculture, civil rights and anti-war movements.

But rest assured that "Once Upon a Dream" is first and foremost a concert -- and a special one at that.

There is a dream-come-true aspect to the production in that the Rascals were apart, acrimoniously, for more than 40 years, with vocalist Eddie Brigati leaving in 1970 and guitarist Gene Cornish splitting in 1971 before singer-keyboardist Felix Cavaliere and drummer Dino Danelli shuttered the band in 1972. So just having the four present and in the flesh on the same stage is notable enough (imagine if the Four Seasons were part of "Jersey Boys" instead of actors) -- and it's even better that, even aided by three backup singers and two more musicians, they're arguably as strong as they ever were, even at ages 68-70.

The show starts off with an Ed Sullivan introduction and right into the buoyant versions of "It's Wonderful" and "I've Been Lonely Too Long," with Brigati and Cavaliere, respectively, showing off vocal pipes that haven't accumulated much rust over the years. Danelli, meanwhile, drummed with the jazz-leaning youthful abandon that made him part of rock's top tier, and Cornish's brief solos were spot-on throughout the night.

A hot take of the soulful "Come On Up" was among the highlights of the show's first half -- which also included nods to Motown via a medley of the Miracles' "Mickey's Monkey" with Bobby Bland's "Turn On Your Love Light" and a cover of the Marvelettes' "Too Many Fish in the Sea" -- while a pairing of "If I Knew You" and "Hold On" and the one-two punch of the hits "I Ain't Gonna Eat Out My Heart Anymore" and "Good Lovin' " ushered the show to intermission. The second half focused even more on the music, with "Love is a Beautiful Thing" leading into the sublime "Groovin' " and an ample sampling of experimental fare such as the Spanish-flavored "Sueno," Cavaliere's gospel-laced "Heaven" and psychedelic opuses such as "Find Somebody" and "It's Love" alongside the consciousness anthem "People Got to Be Free."

Some purists and big Rascal fans may wish the script including an explanation of why the group was known for a time as the Young Rascals and also discuss short but impactful role Brigati's older brother David played in the group's history. But the music holds forth as the bright star of the show, a reunion that rewards what was an unfathomably long wait. At the end, the show's narrator -- Van Zandt's "The Sopranos" cohort Tony Sirico (Paulie Gualtieri) -- pronounces that "The Rascals are back!," and we can only hope to see more of them in the future.

The Rascals' perform "Once Upon a Dream" at 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $40-$150. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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