American music fans who grew up during the 1960s grooved to a collection of feel-good tunes from a pop/soul group from New Jersey that easily rivaled all the top bands of the era in talent, accumulation of hit songs and popularity.
The Rascals - Felix Cavaliere, Eddie Brigati, Dino Danelli and Gene Cornish - provided the musical soundtrack for the lives of many a '60s teen and fans of various ages with well-crafted, catchy songs. The hits, such as "People Got to Be Free," "Lonely Too Long," "It's A Beautiful Morning," "Groovin,'" "How Can I Be Sure," and others, struck a chord with listeners.
One of the teens drawn to the music of The Rascals was Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
"Around 1964 and 1965, almost every single band that existed came from England and The Rascals were not only American but from New Jersey. They were guys we could relate to," said Van Zandt, during a recent telephone interview.
The first time he saw them in concert was at a New Jersey roller rink he frequented. Ironically, Van Zandt said, he later found out Bruce Springsteen was at that same show. Both he and Springsteen were big fans of the group that he called the first "blue-eyed soul" band.
"You can draw a direct line from The Rascals to The E Street Band," he said.
Flash forward decades later and Van Zandt's love and admiration of The Rascals has turned into a monumental theatrical project.
Van Zandt and his wife Maureen Van Zandt are presenting "Once Upon a Dream Starring The Rascals," a unique show featuring the original band members in a type of concert/biographical format. The production offers the history of the band backed by a soundtrack of their hit singles.
"We're bringing the real thing to Chicago," Van Zandt said. "We've created a hybrid-type of show." "Once Upon A Dream Starring The Rascals" opens today and runs through Nov. 10 at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Van Zandt, who starred in HBO's "The Sopranos," and is the host of his own syndicated radio program Little Steven's Underground Garage, and star, co-writer, and co-producer of Netflix' "Lillyhammer," is the writer, co-producer and co-director of "Once Upon a Dream."
The show had its debut on Broadway in the spring where it was successfully received. The Windy City production of "Once Upon a Dream" is presented by The Van Zandts, Broadway in Chicago, co-producer/director Marc Brickman and Base Entertainment.
Van Zandt said his idea to get The Rascals back together was sparked by a fundraiser he and his wife were honored at three years ago.
"We wanted to reunite them to perform for the event," he said. "They were so good," Van Zandt said, that he felt he wanted to see them together once again creating their great music.
"So I wrote the show," Van Zandt said. "I wanted them to do a concert and I wanted them to tell their story." He said many people know the unmistakable Rascals songs but know nothing about the band behind the hits.
"It's an entertaining evening with 28 songs," he said, calling the production a "unique art form" which has multi-media features.
Although the 1960s were tumultuous in many ways, Van Zandt said, the music of The Rascals was largely optimistic.
"They never went over to the dark side," he said, adding the tunes remained positive.
Van Zandt stressed fans won't be disappointed with the show. "The Rascals are finally getting the accolades they deserve," he said.