Carol Rosegg
Keith Staskiewicz
August 15, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Soul Doctor (2013)

Current Status
In Season
run date
Eric Anderson, Amber Iman, Ron Orbach
Daniel S. Wise
Neshama Carlebach, Schlomo Carlebach, David Schechter, Daniel S. Wise

We gave it a C

Oy gevalt. It’s not that there’s anything particularly terrible about Soul Doctor, the biographical musical about the late ”rock-star rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach, but there isn’t all that much to recommend either. Carlebach is certainly an interesting figure: An Orthodox Jew who embraced pop music and hippiedom over traditional scholasticism and rose to prominence in the 1960s, he served as a striking countercultural counterpoint. But director Daniel S. Wise’s production — which consists mostly of a Judaic jukebox of Carlebach’s popular melodies — fails to achieve anything beyond a standard, and occasionally cringeworthy, retelling of his life.

Soul Doctor begins with a depiction of Carlebach’s early years in Vienna under the hard-soled boot of Nazism that is only a few notches below Springtime for Hitler in terms of unfortunate self-parody. A later interpretation of lovey-dovey life in late ’60s Haight-Ashbury is no less over the top, with dancing, LSD-tripping flower children so broad and nonspecific that they say ”far out” pretty much every other sentence. The main villain, a traditionalist cantor and Carlebach’s former teacher (Ron Orbach), is similarly caricatured, and the show’s shticky punchlines are as rusty and groan-producing as the pipes in an old house.

On the other hand, Eric Anderson, a goyim, is actually quite good as Carlebach, capturing a meek self-consciousness in his line delivery that then transforms into a roaring warmth once he begins to sing. He’s matched by Amber Iman, who manages a quality imitation of the generally inimitable songstress Nina Simone, who played a surprisingly influential role in Carlebach’s life. The relationship between Simone and Carlebach forms the backbone of the narrative, as their lives occasionally intersect. Their first scene together in a New York City piano bar — they bond over the power of music and contrast their experiences as members of a subaltern group (black in the American South, Jewish in Nazi-led Austria) — is easily the best in the show. But at two and a half hours, this overlong production has far too many that never reach such heights. C

(Tickets: or 800-432-7250)

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