“Once upon a dream, time stood still,” the Rascals sang in 1968, “In that peaceful dream, man was blessed with will.” Steven Van Zandt, the 62-year-old musician and actor, is the creator of The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream, a Broadway production and musical trip down memory lane. In a freewheeling interview, he spoke to The Globe and Mail about the 1960s, an era in which optimism and hopeful, joyous Rascals music were in fashion.
Once Upon a Dream is a production involving a band you’ve long championed. It’s a jukebox musical, but with the actual group, is that about right?
Yeah, it’s Jersey Boys, but with the Four Seasons [laughs]. It’s not, really. The difference is that the theatrical part, if you will, is all on the screen. The lonely thing live is the four original guys, who nobody’s seen together for 40 years, and a few other musicians. We wanted to preserve the integrity of the concert, but you also get the story. You get transported back to the sixties for two hours, basically.
Is the decade important?
There was something special in that era, that I think we can learn from and be informed by. With Once Upon a Dream, I think people are leaving the theatre with a level of optimism and hope that doesn’t exist right now. I am thoroughly convinced that we are all walking around depressed, and that we’re all in denial about it. And that comes from 24 hours a day of bad news on television. We’re in all this debt. We’re in a permanent bad economy. There’s just no hope, and we all sort of just ignore that.
Weren’t the 1960s one of the most turbulent and violent decades in American history?
Very much so. But in spite of all the turbulence, simultaneously there was an extraordinary sense of hope.
Hope for what?
I remember sitting around the dinner table and discussing not if, but when were we going to go to the four-day work week. This was a common discussion.
You’re talking about post Second World War prosperity?
Yes. There was a luxury class, which was the whole species of the teenager. There was no such thing as the teenager before the fifties. There were a couple of awkward years between adolescence and adulthood. So, all of a sudden there was a teenage market, and an excess of dollars. It created this environment of a rather positive and optimistic sensibility. So, with this show, we go back to that.
Can we really go back to that?
I think so. We need to rethink how we live our lives. Why are we settling for such mediocrity? We live in desperation. There was a time when greatness was a part of our life.
What about the music? Do you think young people today will feel as passionate about their music as you do about the Rascals?
I don’t think today’s music will have the same emotional impact. But it’s not because of the music itself. During our renaissance period – and I use that term intentionally, to describe ‘51 to ‘71 – music played an essential role in youthful culture. It can’t be the same now, because of all the distractions.
The death of the monoculture. We’re not all listening to or watching the same things any longer. Unless we’re talking about something like, oh I don’t know, The Sopranos.
The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream, Aug. 13 to 25, $99 to $200. Royal Alex, 260 King St. W., 1-800-461-3333 or mirvish.com.