NEW YORK — In the 40 years since The Rascals disbanded, the band’s name has sort of grown a paunch. These days, it’s more associated with a brand of motorized wheelchair than a pioneering group of musicians.
Well, the original Rascals are back — and on Broadway, no less — to prove that grandpa can still rock out.
During a two-hour concert at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the four — Felix Cavaliere on keyboard and vocals, singer Eddie Brigati, drummer Dino Danelli and guitarist Gene Cornish — seem to have taken musical Viagra.
Brigati gleefully smashed two tambourines against his thigh and Cornish playfully threw guitar picks into the crowd. These pioneers of blue-eyed soul were having fun and that became infectious.
The show is part of a 15-concert stand and combines live performance, video re-enactments, archival concert footage, op-art backdrops and psychedelic lighting. Steven Van Zandt, the guitarist for Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, shares directing duties with visual designer Marc Brickman.
The band, only reuniting recently under Van Zandt’s careful prodding, proves to have a deep and rich catalog including the hits “It’s a Beautiful Morning,” “How Can I Be Sure,” “People Got to Be Free” and “I’ve Been Lonely Too Long.” They breeze through 30 songs that span rockabilly, funk, blues, soul and psychedelic. Three backup singers, a bassist and extra keyboardist round out the sound.
They kicked it off with “Once Upon a Dream” and smartly made the crowd wait a full hour before giving them what they ached for — “Good Lovin,’” which brought everyone to their feet. The band could have ended it there — leaving plenty of time for fans to snap up $65 hoodies and $30 T-shirts — but kept going.
The music is periodically interrupted by filmed footage of the bandmates talking about how they met in the ’60s, worked together, withstood the British invasion and then broke up by the early 1970s. (“It all went dark,” they say as the toll of mismanagement, drugs and infighting took their toll. “We missed the ’70s. And the ’80s. And the ’90s.”
There are a few cute scenes with actors playing the younger versions of the middle-aged men onstage. But there’s precious little concert footage of the four back when they were prowling the New York-New Jersey club scene. Nor are there any ad-lib remarks, just recorded ones.
The projections aren’t universally awesome — sometimes there’s nothing on the massive 50-foot-by-25-foot LED back screen. Sometimes it’s hazy ’60s babes bouncing about, or cartoons, or what looks like an octopus eating its young. And lots and lots of blooming flowers. Their outfits are mostly suit pants and flower-pattered shirts under vests. Brigati bravely topped his outfit with a matching scarf.
But it’s the music that rightly stands out and The Rascals prove they were more than just a few hits. Songs like “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” “If You Knew” and “Hold On” show their range. The voices of Brigati and Cavaliere are still strong even if they no longer have the roundness of youth. That matters little — it’s just nice to see everyone groovin.’
Brigati has perhaps the best line in the show. Just before the band had a big break, he was involved in a serious car accident. Still badly injured, his bandmates dragged him to work and he miraculously recovered. “Any good band is kind of a miracle, right?” he muses.