Why I Loved Soul Doctor
I applaud David Gordon's review of "Soul Doctor" for its deep insights into to the true life of Shlomo Carlebach and astute comparisons to other shows, but I disagree that Soul Doctor falls short because it does not fully explore the life of Shlomo Carlebach or sugar coats it when it does. I saw "Soul Doctor" (twice!) with no prior knowledge of the life of Shlomo Carlebach (I know, as a Jew raised in Brooklyn, shame on me!) So while I appreciate the missing information that I've since learned about this divisive but mostly lovable fellow, I find such details irrelevant to my enjoyment of the production (even though I'm still wondering how his daughter Neshama Carlebach, who was involved with the production, came to be, since there were no signs of a wife, much less sex, in the story portrayed on the stage.) I found the production to be stellar – from the "Hair"-like lighting to the simple though effective sets, case in point: the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in the second act was on stage the whole time, but through the magic of theater, we were transported to the Holy Land when the actors believed that's where they were. And the "busy" dancing only added to my sense of jubilation – not to mention the performances of Mr. Anderson and Ms. Iman, as has been pointed out. However, I didn't see the role of Nina Simone as a "thankless" one nor do I particularly care that it may have been exaggerated for the sake of attracting a wider audience. I also knew nothing about Nina Simone (again, shame on me) but I found the extent to which the characters explored the very real tensions between Jews and Blacks in mid-twentieth century Brooklyn (something I do have direct experience with) to be a bit edgy for today's very safe theater environment. Ms. Iman got a chance to display her vocal talents (in a Broadway debut no less!) in a role that will no doubt launch a successful career. The playful repartee between her and Shlomo and the Borscht Belt jokes, while admittedly kitschy, were countered by the show's willingness to explore the racial undertones of the time — it's almost like we needed the kitsch to help get us through the sadness and pain of realizing the impact of those early racial tensions on today's world (read: Trayvon Martin.) I also found the roles of Shlomo's parents to be convincing, particularly the command of a Yiddish accent by Jacqueline Antaramian, who, although maybe a little too young and pretty, had me as the "typical Jewish mother." I completely agree with Mr. Gordon in regard to Zarah Mahler who played Sholmo's girlfriend—she had a show-stopping number in the second act which displayed her imitable vocal talents, but otherwise her character wasn't developed enough for me to really buy the connection between them. (Spoiler alert: Guess that's why it didn't work for Shlomo either.) It really comes down to Mr. Anderson – I'm not sure I would have had the same inspired experience at both performances if not for him. I kept seeing and hearing Mandy Patinkin in his performance, case closed for comparisons to Broadway leading men. And speaking of male Broadway newcomers, Teddy Walsh stole my heart as Young Shlomo (he alternates in the role with Ethan Khusidman, also a talented cutie patootie). While I had no problem with its interpretation of Rabbi Carlebach's story, my only concern for this otherwise meritorious show is its Jewish-ness. I can't help feeling bad that the show may not attract its deserved audience because of this. The title does its part to combat this, as does the mention of Nina Simone in the first line of the description, no doubt wise and deliberate tactics by the producers to broaden its appeal. But then again, "Old Jews Telling Jokes" has no problem drawing raucous crowds, so perhaps "Soul Doctor" will live up to its billing as "a certifiable hit:" Ki Va Moed (the time has come!) Read more of my thoughts on Broadway and other NYC happenings at the "Life in NYC" section of my blog, www.jamikellywriter.tumblr.com.
Soul Doctor on Sunday, Sep 15th, 2013