The Rascals are heading to Broadway

04:16 PM, Feb 21, 2013

Gene Cornish, here practicing for the Rochester Music Hall of Fame concert in Eastman Theatre last May, heads to Broadway this year with The Rascals. (MARIE DE JESUS/STAFF FILE PHOTO)/

Written By Jeff Spevak | Staff music critic


Tickets for the The RascalsÂ’ Once Upon a Dream production on Broadway go on sale Friday at

Get outta the way, Scarlett Johansson. The Rascals hit Broadway in April when Once Upon a Dream, a theatrical biography featuring all four members of the band, begins a three-week run at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

I never thought I’d get in a Broadway theater without buying a ticket,” said Gene Cornish, the band’s Rochester-raised guitarist.

Previews are set for April 15 and 16, with the official premiere April 18. It runs 15 performances through May 5.

The show features all four Rascals — Cornish, singer-keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, singer-guitarist Eddie Brigati and drummer Dino Danelli — backed by a bassist, keyboardist and three singers. They’ll be performing 41 Rascals songs in front of a 50- by 40-foot digital video screen projecting the band and archival images from the 1960s, when the Rascals dominated the charts with hits such as “People Got to Be Free,” “Good Lovin’ ” and “It’s a Beautiful Morning.”

The video screen also presents dramatic recreations with guest actors such as Vincent Pastore of The Sopranos, who narrates and plays industry figure “Fat Frankie.”

It’s a hybrid concert-Broadway show,” Cornish said.

Over the course of two hours and five minutes, the soul-infused rock band is also featured in pre-taped segments to narrate its own story and discuss its music, legal squabbles and issues of the day, including the fight for Civil Rights. The Rascals famously insisted that their concert dates also feature African-America groups.

Once Upon a Dream had a trial run on six shows in December at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, Westchester County. The trial run was funded by $123,000 generated on Kickstarter, the website that many artists and musicians are using to raise money to back their projects. There is an option for an additional two more weeks at the Richard Rodgers Theatre before the two-hour show moves to Hollywood, Fla., for a set of performances.

The show is written, produced and directed by Little Steven Van Zandt, guitarist with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, an actor who also was in The Sopranos and a longtime fan of the Rascals. Van Zandt was instrumental in healing the band’s wounds after an acrimonious, lawyer-filled breakup.

He’s been carefully watching over us, to make sure after people pay $135 a ticket, that we get the songs right,” Cornish said. “We’re so happy to be alive and playing and recognizing our legacy.”

Once Upon a Dream — taken from the title of The Rascals’ 1968 album — features not only the hits, but some obscure songs. For example, “Away, Away,” written and sung by Cornish, from the 1969 album See is included.

Cornish was born in Canada and moved to Rochester with his family at a young age. He played in rock bands here as a teenager, graduating from Franklin High School and moving to New York City, where he was a member of Joey Dee & the Starlighters before helping create The Rascals. The Rascals joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Cornish was part of last year’s inaugural class of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame.

The 1,319-seat Richard Rodgers Theatre is currently presenting a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Johansson. Across the street from the theater, Cornish points out, is a parking lot that was once the Joey Dee & the Starlighters Club, “where I met Felix and Eddie, and where Joey Dee said we’d never make it,” Cornish said.

He later apologized.”