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“They were not ready to reunite. And I wasn’t in the frame of mind to really go through all the incredible, complicated machinations to figure out why they weren’t ready,” he says.

Van Zandt kept in touch and in 1997 his efforts to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame paid off. In a humorous speech, complete with a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, Van Zandt brought down the house: “To sound that black, you had to be Italian,” he joked.

The band may have inadvertently kick-started Van Zandt’s acting career. TV writer David Chase happened to watch the speech and thought Van Zandt would be great on his new show, “The Sopranos.”

“You can’t make this stuff up, can you?” says Van Zandt. “So I have two reasons to be thankful for The Rascals.”

The push to really reunite The Rascals began three years ago when Van Zandt and his wife, Maureen, were being honored at a cancer fundraiser. He wanted to do something special, and Maureen suggested he reach out to the band.

“It turned out to be the right moment,” he says. “After people throwing money at them for years and them turning it down, I think the idea of coming together for a cancer benefit appealed to them.”

It turns out that Van Zandt, who is filming the second season of “Lilyhammer” and planning to join Springsteen’s tour after The Rascals show opens, has a knack for navigating old hurt feelings.

“It’s just a matter of having the patience and the time and being able to dedicate your focus on them individually, get the whole story, figure out what the differences are between the stories and analyzing the situation,” he says. “Therapy and psychology and psychiatry is all part of being a record producer.”

Before the benefit, the four members of The Rascals had just three days of rehearsal _ the first time they’d played together in decades _ and Van Zandt was blown away.

“Oh my God, I’ll never forget that as long as I live. The minute they started playing it was like `Oh my God. Wow. It’s real, that chemistry thing.’ You always hear about that chemistry thing. There it is. It is like magic. I was astounded at rehearsal.”

Hoping to keep the momentum going, Van Zandt conceived of the current show. In December the four original Rascals performed it for six sold-out shows at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, N.Y.

For Van Zandt, keeping them together for Broadway was his expression of gratitude. “How do I thank them? Well, reuniting them was not enough in the end,” he says. “It was like, `OK, that’s a miracle.’ But not miraculous enough for me.”



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