The Wall Street Journal ad for “Soul Doctor” reads, “Exhilarating, Riveting and Hilarious.” My copy would say, “Fun and somewhat interesting in the first act; fell apart in the second. At almost 3 hours, too, tooo, toooo long!”
Shlomo Carlebach was born in Vienna just at the beginning of WWII. His parents were Orthodox Jews. When his father, a rabbi, was threatened by the Nazis, he had the foresight to flee with his family to the U.S. Shlomo Carlebach became a Rabbi but, influenced by a beautiful black singer and activist named Nina Simone, broke with tradition and established his own musical style. Much to his parents' dismay, he became a well-known entertainer. He died at the age of 69, leaving a legacy of peace, love, original tunes and saddened fans. His two daughters, Neshama, who performed with him and contributed to this production, and Nedara were close to him. Director Daniel S. Wise's Book is effective in the first scenes, but fizzles, because it has no place to go. David Schechter's Lyrics with Carlebach's Music and additional Lyrics are fine until they all begin to sound alike.
Soul Doctor starts out telling this story with color and verve, reminiscent of a Jewish “Hair.” EricAnderson is initially effective as this ebullient singer. Accompanied by a Beggar's Band, which look like Hippies, he bounces into every number as if he were on a trampoline. In many cases, members of the audience are asked to clap along and they love it; at the outset this is fun, then it becomes tiresome.
The first scenes are told from Young Shlomo's point of view. Played well by either Teddy Walsh or Ethan Khusidman, the other one plays his brother, Eli, there is a touching moment when Moisheleh, the excellent Michael Paternostro, is singing in the street and exhorts Schlomo to join him. He is shot and killed by a Nazi soldier for his talents.
As an adult, Shlomo loves jazz and rock, but continues to follow Orthodox ritual, not touching a woman, even trying to separate men and women in his nightclub audience. Finally, he moves with Nina, portrayed by stunning Amber Iman, the best thing about this musical, to San Francisco during the 1960s. There he establishes his own kind of temple. Late in the second act, we meet Ruth, the lovely Zarah Mahler, who confesses that she loves him in a song entitled, “I was a Sparrow.”
I liked Benoit-Swan Pouffer's Choreography, particularly in the scene with the dancing Rabbis and their books.
While Neil Patel's set, Maggie Morgan's Costumes and Jeff Croiter's Lighting are all acceptable, there is some note of the amateur about the production that teaches us about Shlomo Carlebach, the man, his religion and his music.
At Circle in the Square, New York City.