ROBIN’S SHOW REVIEW: SOUL DOCTOR
Following a sold-out, Off-Broadway run last summer, the hit musical Soul Doctor – the story of the beloved yet controversial father of popular Jewish music, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach began performances on Broadway at Circle in the Square Theatre onWednesday, July 17 with an official opening slated for Thursday, August 15.
Conceived by Jeremy Chess, created by David Schechter and Daniel S.Wise, with direction by Mr. Wise, Soul Doctor has a book by Mr. Wise, lyrics by Mr. Schechter and music by Shlomo Carlebach, with additional material by Neshama Carlebach.
Carlebach ignited the spirit of millions around the world with his soul-stirring melodies, transformative storytelling and boundless love. After witnessing the shooting of an admired street performer in Vienna and his childhood escape with his parents and brother from the Nazis, the gifted young Rabbi moves to New York with his family and forms an unlikely friendship with legendary jazz singer (then a lounge singer aspiring for opportunity despite prejudice) Nina Simone, who introduces him to soul and gospel music. Their late night, off “religious” limits conversation strikes a surprisingly strong chord with each on deep levels, and over the years, they remain a source of support for each other as their respective careers soar despite resistance from others.
Soul Doctor features Eric Anderson as Carlebach (who was in Kinky Boots), who received a 2013 Drama Desk Award nomination for his rousing performance in the role of Carlebach off Broadway. Anderson is excellent as Calebach. He is earnest, has a beautiful, stirring voice, a tender presence, and soulful eyes.
A real standout is Amber Iman as Nina Simone in her impressive Broadway debut. From the moment we meet Simone playing the piano and hear her sultry crooning, we want more, and we can understand the draw she has for Carlebach. She is a beautiful, talented force and also adds a bit of comic levity each time she says Shlomo’s name, in her own way, sounding like “ChezLomo.” Their controversial relationship consummated with a kiss (and perhaps more) that leads to tabloid headlines, makes Carlebach “cool,” breathing new life into his career as he goes on to perform on stage with Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Pete Seeger, the Grateful Dead and Simone, among others…headlining venues from Carnegie Hall to West Village coffeehouses, and more.
While an inspiring, spirited real life tale of passion and perseverance, unexpected fame, and the difference one person can make despite the toll it takes, the musical would benefit from some cutting. It features over 30 songs by Carlebach, and as uplifting as they are, after a while they blend together and don’t serve to move the musical forward. A welcome duet would have been to perhaps add a song in Act II with Carlebach and his elderly father singing about their differences, yet love for each other. It would have given the musical an extra dose of depth. The show succeeds best on an emotional level by highlighting the taboo relationship between Calebach and Simone, and as important as they are to each other, Carlebach spends much more tiresome time in the musical with his hippie followers dancing in the aisles, think Godpsell meets Hair meets Scandalous.
As Carlebach’s parents Jacqueline Antaramian and Jamie Jackson perform admirably. Teddy Walsh is terrific as young Shlomo (and other secondary roles). Zahar Mahler is on the mark as Ruth, the insecure girl who ultimately marries Carlebach and makes him a proud pappa.
The book features some pithy dialogue, for example, when a record producer trying to sign Carlebach to a deal says, “You’ve heard of Peter, Paul and Mary?” and Carlebach responds, “I don’t know so much about the New Testament.”
The award-winning design team for Soul Doctor includes scenic design by Neil Patel ([title of show]), costume design by Maggie Morgan (David’s Red-Haired Death), lighting design by Jeff Croiter (Newsies) and sound design by John Shivers (Kinky Boots) and David Patridge.
Tickets may be purchased through www.telecharge.com, by calling (212) 239-6200, or at the Circle in the Square box office The theatre is located at 1633 Broadway, entrance
on 50th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. For more information, visit www.SoulDoctorBroadway.com.