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The newest Jersey Boys (plus two guys from New York state) to take over Broadway are the '60s group the Rascals, best known for upbeat hits like "Groovin'," "Good Lovin'," and "It's a Beautiful Morning." For anyone who lived through that era, those songs were glistening gems of optimism, "blue-eyed soul" riffs of sincerity that took the edge off the nation's mounting anxiety. The group was reunited in 2010 by their No. 1 fan, Sopranos rocker Steven Van Zandt, who had helped them get inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in the '90s. So here comes Once Upon a Dream, their limited-run multimedia concert slash biomusical, written by Van Zandt, which looks back on four young guys who spread chart-topping sunshine only to fall through the tawdry trapdoor of success.
Felix Cavaliere, who sang lead on most of their hits, told me the band had been in touch through the years, but only for legal reasons. "We had a tough time," he said. "There were a lot of misunderstandings." Were they all suing each other? "No, I wish I could say that," he laughed. "I was the recipient. I don't sue people unless somebody injures my dog or cat. Anyway, the fight was total nonsense. If we were in England, it would have been thrown out of court."
Van Zandt helped the guys bury the hatchet (and not in each other), so Cavaliere says, "I'm gonna see if we can get him over to Gaza." And once again, the Rascals can sing their hits without seeming hypocritical.
"People have tossed millions of dollars at us to do a show and we couldn't figure a reason to do it," the band's Gene Cornish told me in a separate interview. "They'd give you a lot of money, then just give you a microphone and a flashlight." But Van Zandt had a full production in mind, with fancy lights and projections, and the guys onstage the whole time, doing 31 songs and meaning them. And it covers everything, including the time when the groovin' turned icky. "Everybody had a factor of ego," said Cavaliere. "It was the alpha male thing. And we didn't have a guiding figure. We needed better guidance from the management."
They split in the early 1970s and Cornish told me they can't even remember exactly why. "But our music is about how if you can live through it, with all the shit coming at you, you'll come out the other side. Basically, we're living in the now. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. We're stronger."
And more popular. When the curtain lifts, he said, "The audience is thinking 'They're really here.' And we're going, 'They're really here'." But can the guys stay there? With the young Rascals being not so young anymore, is there any worry that they'll collapse onstage? "No!" said Cornish. "George Burns once said, 'I can't die now. I'm booked.'"
Rita Wilson is also drawing from the wondrous well of '60s music these days. Not only is Rita an actor, producer, and Tom Hanks's wife, but she has a new album called AM/FM, filled with reinterpretations of classics that used to pipe out of the car radio before mandatory seatbelts stopped you from wriggling along. And she's good. She has a Sheryl Crow-ish sound, especially on a country-rock version of "Come See About Me" that Patty Scialfa produced. (I guess superstar wives gotta stick together.)
In a sit-down at 54 Below, where she's performing, Rita told me that her AM phase in the '60s involved hearing dreamily romantic hit songs (like the Rascals') and imagining someone would sing those words to her someday. "By time I had my own driver's license," she said, "it was the 1970s era of FM. I was in control of the radio, and there were all these singer/songwriters—Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell—doing songs that incorporated disillusionment."
Did anyone ever end up actually saying those romantic things to her, ahem? "Yeah, of course," Rita said. "Tom." "Correct answer!" I shrieked. "I hesitated," she went on, "because I was thinking about how I co-wrote a song called 'U Know Who U Are', and it has my Tom verse in it. The song is about the people who have betrayed you, lied to you, diminished you. Then along comes the person who wants the best for you, that gets through all the protective layers so you can be yourself." Life is like a box of chocolates indeed.
Rita—who's seen Tom in Lucky Guy three times so far—made her own Broadway debut in Chicago seven years ago. "You can't ever be depressed in a musical," she confided. "The endorphins are pumping." So no mainlining during that period, ha ha? "I was off my fix," she played along. "That's why I'm here. I need more!" That seems to be the running theme of this column.