After Dark: The Rascals
10:15 AM, Nov 13, 2013
If you go
Once Upon a Dream Starring The Rascals.
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 20.
Where: Auditorium Theatre, 885 E. Main St.
Tickets: $42.50 to $78, available at ticketmaster.com, (800) 745-3000 and during business hours at the box office.
Dead for nearly four decades, Ed Sullivan is resurrected on the huge video screen. “Let’s open the show with The Young Rascals,” he says, pointing to the band that, in any legitimate sense, had been dead as well since 1970.
Yet lawyers and decades of ill feelings aside, here come The Rascals once again, taking Sullivan’s cue to hit the opening “It’s Wonderful.” Once Upon a Dream
Starring The Rascals hits the Auditorium Theatre Nov. 20 with all four original members, a 32-person crew on three trucks, a huge video screen showing interviews, old photos, psychedelic images and actors playing the guys in their prime.
The show debuted with an off-Broadway run this spring at New York City’s Richard Rodgers Theater, after Scarlett Johansson had gotten through with a production of Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. “Bang, there we are, after 42 years,” guitarist Gene Cornish says of that opening night. “Collectively and individually, I think we were all thinking: ‘Wow, the fans are all here.’ “
The show is two hours and 10 minutes of 29 songs played in full. The four original Rascals Cornish, singer/keyboardist Felix Cavaliere, drummer Dino Danelli and singer Eddie Brigati are boosted with a bassist, second keyboardist and three back-up singers, but otherwise the Rascals play the hits and memories exactly as they were recorded. Cornish sees the fans out there, keeping air time with Danelli’s original drum parts. “And I have to play my guitar solos the way they were back then,” Cornish says. Because the fans remember all of that as well.
This healing has been a long time coming, with a handful of starts and stops as the lawyers fed off of who owned the name, who got what royalties. The Rascals lingered as just Cavaliere, who the lawyers agreed could tour as “Felix Cavaliere’s Rascals.” Or as Cornish and Danelli, who the lawyers said could tour as “The New Rascals.” They even got close in 1988, with Cavaliere, Cornish and Danelli together, allowed to be themselves, minus Brigati.
But this incremental good lovin’ never lasted, even when the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, the first appearance together by all four band members since their breakup. It was a tense night; the other Rascals were thinking that the induction was all about Cavaliere. And the acrimony wasn’t limited to The Rascals. George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic was being inducted as well that night. “The whole evening was a lot of handshaking and a lot of back-stabbing,” Cornish said afterward. “Look at George Clinton. He had, like, 19 people onstage and 12 of them, I’m told, are suing him.”
Cornish is an important piece of Rochester’s musical history. He was born in Canada, but at age 4 his mother, Ada, moved him to Rochester so she could marry Ted Cornish. For years, Ted Cornish ran a sporting goods store at the corner of Geneva Street and North Clinton Avenue. The family lived in the apartment above the store. Rascals fans shouldn’t bother making a pilgrimage to the spot. It burned down long ago. It’s now an empty lot. When Cornish graduated from Franklin High School in 1963, he left for New York City.
The Rascals were an important band of the era, and they were a good one. They reflected the music and the hope and politics of the ’60s. Songs such as “It’s a Beautiful Morning” and “Groovin’ ” were upbeat, a part of the growing hippie scene. “Our songs reflected our positiveness,” Cornish says. The sound was called blue-eyed soul, borrowing heavily from the soul and R&B of black musicians. “We wanted to reflect that,” Cornish says, and it played out on Rascals tours throughout the late ’60s, as the Civil Rights battle was unfolding. “We insisted on having as many black acts on our shows as possible,” he says.
Once Upon a Dream never would have happened if it weren’t for Little Steven Van Zandt, guitarist with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and a huge Rascals fan while growing up. He inducted the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Over years, he pushed them together.
It happened on April 24, 2010. Following three days of rehearsals, The Rascals took the stage at a cancer benefit at which Van Zandt and his wife were the guests of honor. It was during the Tribeca Film Festival, and Whoopi Goldberg and Bill Murray were in the audience while the band played 15 songs for a packed party room at Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Grill, joined by Van Zandt and Bruce Springsteen for the final tune, “Good Lovin’.”
Van Zandt had an idea that he could develop this into something like Jersey Boys. Kind of a bio-concert, except with the rare opportunity to do it with an important band in which, as Cornish says, “all four members are alive and functioning from 40 years ago.
“Stevie brought us into a room separately and did a 1½-hour interview with Dave Marsh,” he says; Marsh is a longtime rock journalist. “Then we could each listen to each other.”
Those interviews launched Once Upon a Dream, the title of a Rascals album. Cornish says it took Van Zandt two years and 30 drafts to polish it. “When I first read the script, I had a hard time not breaking down in tears. All of the wonderful things we did, and tragic things we did. It was so touching, and yet so exhilarating.
“We came to realize what we missed about each other, and doing our music. We keep losing the closest people in our genre.”
Cornish was damn near one of them. He’s gone though heart bypass, cancer surgery and a serious staph infection. In the intra-band squabble, the feud between Cornish and Cavaliere ran deepest. But with Cornish in the hospital, Cavaliere called. The serious illnesses threatening one member of the band, that impending sense of mortality, was starting to draw The Rascals back together.
The reunion seemed to be for real when Cavaliere was here in April 2012 to help induct Cornish into the inaugural class of the Rochester Music Hall of Fame.
“My health is perfect,” Cornish says. Now 69, never married, he’s even engaged. No date’s been set for him and Debbie Davies “why do people always ask that?” he asks. “But it’s about time I got off my ass and did something worthwhile.
“I was writing a book,” Cornish says. “I stopped writing it. I wanted to see if there was another chapter.”