The Rascals will return to Broadway in December for a second three-week run, and if all goes according to plan, their next tour will be more week-long residencies in theaters than one-nighters in concert venues. It may also spur other veteran acts to explore this new hybrid of concert, theatrical show and film that balances stories about a band, its songs and the milieu of its heyday.
“It’s a completely new genre — what could be the next evolution of the concert experience for the older artists,” says E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who orchestrated the Rascals reunion, as well as directing and producing the show “Once Upon a Dream.” “Concerts are going on now for 50, 60 years, so maybe it’s time for a change, to start integrating the story. The idea [for “Once Upon a Dream”] was to integrate the stories with the songs, give the songs a context and make the whole night entertaining while retaining the integrity of the concert.”
“The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream” has toured the country this year, beginning with three nights at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y., and will wrap in October with shows at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and the Warfield in San Francisco. It has only had two multiple-night runs: 14 nights (April 16-May 5) at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theater, where it played to 94% capacity and grossed $2.2 million (according to IBDB.com), and a 10-night run at the 1,100-seat Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto (Aug. 13-25).
The 28-song show is a mixture of hits — the group had 13 top 40 records between 1965 and 1969 — and obscurities (“See,” “It’s Love,” “If You Knew,” “Baby Let’s Wait”) performed against a backdrop of historic footage and actors re-enacting the Rascals’ story.
The production took three years to assemble, costing Van Zandt $2 million and 617 donors on Kickstarter another $123,000. Van Zandt says crowd-sourcing was done more to get a sense of the value of the project than to raise funds. Expenditures included three years of voice lessons for singer Eddie Brigati with Katie Agresta (“Jersey Boys,” Bon Jovi), a 50-foot-long screen for the visual design work of lighting director/co-producer/co-director Marc Brickman (Roger Waters, Nine Inch Nails) and a full complement of musicians to allow the quartet to reproduce its work the way it was recorded.
When “Once Upon a Dream” returns to Broadway the week of Dec. 16, this time at the 1,600-seat Marriott Marquis, its rock’n’roll cohorts will be three shows that are proving the durability of pop music catalogs on the Great White Way. “Jersey Boys,” the music and story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons and the closest production to “Once Upon a Dream,” recouped its initial investment nine months after it opened in November 2005 and has grossed more than $425 million. The fictional ’80s hard rock saga “Rock of Ages” has pulled in $102 million from 1,730 shows, and “Motown: The Musical” has sold out nearly every show since it opened April 14, grossing more than $16 million. (Producers supply figures to such websites as BroadwayWorld.com that keep running tallies.)
Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen, got the Rascals to initially reunite in 2010 to perform at the Kristen Ann Carr Fund benefit. Van Zandt, who has worked with the band members individually, inducted them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and championed the act on his radio show “Little Steven’s Underground Garage,” says he has been asked to get them back onstage since 1982. He and the band members all say money alone wasn’t enough for a reunion and that the oldies circuit held no appeal. The historical show “gave them an artistic reason to reunite,” Van Zandt says.
“I was given confidence and trust; they treated us better than we have ever been treated,” Brigati says, but Felix Cavaliere, the Rascals’ keyboardist, singer and chief songwriter, had his doubts. He says he has turned down offers to do one-man shows that would be a combination of stories and songs, and he wasn’t fully convinced “Once Upon a Dream” would succeed.
“I must say that this was a surprise to me,” he says. “I think this is a good idea for concerts in the future. You just have to keep the costs down.”