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Rocking Rabbi Flees Nazis, Leads Flower Children: Review

Eric Anderson and Amber Iman star in
Eric Anderson and Amber Iman star in "Soul Doctor." Anderson plays Shlomo Carlebach and Iman stars as jazz singer Nina Simone. Source: Kornberg PR/via Bloomberg

Aug. 17 (Bloomberg) -- “Not to drop names,” a record producer in a plaid jacket says to the charismatic musical rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. “You heard of Peter, Paul and Mary?”

“I don’t know so much the New Testament,” Carlebach (Eric Anderson) replies.

Combine “Fiddler on the Roof” with “Jersey Boys,” add some “Hair” and hokum and you get a taste of “Soul Doctor,” a lively, occasionally cartoonish new musical on Broadway.

For fans of Carlebach, the bushy-bearded, guitar-strumming singer-songwriter who mixed contemporary genres with traditional Jewish music, the show has dozens of his songs to recommend it. And it’s unabashedly Jewish, or at least Jewish-sounding.

The Yiddish exclamation “gevalt” makes 18 appearances.

Carlebach, who died in 1994, was partly reared in Nazi-occupied Vienna. Early in act one, a stranger sings to young Shlomo that he’ll “teach the world to sing” the wondrous song of the Sabbath. Not a moment too soon: a Nazi officer emerges and shoots the prophetic stranger dead.

A happier chance encounter, with the jazz singer Nina Simone (the luminous Amber Iman) in a New York piano bar, leads to a friendship and inspires him to follow his spirituality beyond the realm of traditional Judaism.

The rabbi goes on to lead a commune-like synagogue in late-1960s San Francisco. That disappoints his Orthodox father and provides gist for director and book-writer Daniel Wise and choreographer Benoit-Swan Pouffer to stage “Hair”-style dance numbers in the aisles of the Circle in the Square Theater.

Given its anemic sales, “Soul Doctor” may not be practicing for long. Those intrigued by this passionately performed niche entertainment shouldn’t dawdle. For the less choosy of the chosen people, the musical hits the spot.

At 236 W. 50th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://souldoctorbroadway.com. Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend.

To contact the writer of this column: Philip Boroff at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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