The long journey of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (a captivating Eric Anderson) escaping Nazi infested Vienna to New York’s Columbia University to the Village Gate to the Golden Gate to Florida to NYTW and finally to Broadway where SOUL DOCTOR – this autobiographical musical being presented at The Circle in the Square which has been redesigned as a three quarter thrust stage but still enabling the cast to mingle around the audience in newly installed orchestra seats has resulted in an equally long production where every aspect of his conflicted life of strict religious belief vs. his need to sing and share love and peace and fix the world with a song – lots of songs – about thirty in all that begin to sound alike comes across as the first Jewish Juke Box Musical – a combination of Motown (Shlomo’s greatest hits) Fiddler on the Roof and Hair.
In his mild mannered way Eric Anderson as the troubadour Rabbi Shlomo appears to be a combination of Mandy Patinkin and Theodore Bikel strumming his guitar, struggling with his religion, Hippies, his parents and himself as his sometimes fascinating saga unfolds.
It is about two thirds into the first act that he meets up with Nina Simone (a riveting Amber Iman) in a Greenwich Village jazz club at 2 a.m. that we finally become involved with his story as they find a compatibility that neither one expects that results in him going to a revival meeting at her church. Their scenes together are great and the creators (Daniel S. Wise – book and director and David Schechter – would do well to concentrate on this story line and edit much of the rest.
The third excellent scene (also Act I) is in the recording studio after a record producer having discovered Shlomo singing and strumming in Washington Square Park and then immediately signing him to a contract seeing tons of incoming shekels is very funny and well staged and an exciting finale of the act with “Ode Yishama”.
Then a disappointing Act II drags along where Shlomo falls in love with Ruth (Zarah Mahler) and she with him and he creates The House of Love and Prayer where his disciples mingle with Timothy Leary (a mixture of toaks and a torah that his dad has arrived with) as he becomes an international star with his new Jewish music and we can’t wait to get back to Vienna where all of this began at a concert with Nina Simone in 1972.
There are some extremely funny moments and powerful ones as well but the journey of a rock-star-rabbi tired me out musically well before reaching its final destination.
www.SoulDoctorBroadway.com Photos: Carol Rosegg
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