Review Roundup: SOUL DOCTOR Opens on Broadway - All the Reviews!
The new Broadway musical Soul Doctor, about the life and music of Shlomo Carlebach and his unlikely friendship with Nina Simone, opens tonight, August 15, at Circle in the Square Theatre.
Soul Doctor has music by Shlomo Carlebach, book and direction by Daniel S. Wise, lyrics byDavid Schechter and choreography by Benoit-Swan Pouffer, the acclaimed former artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. Eric Anderson plays Shlomo, and Amber Iman, making her Broadway debut, plays the role of Nina Simone.
The award-winning design team for Soul Doctor includes scenic design by Neil Patel ([title of show]), costume design by Maggie Morgan (David's Red-Haired Death), lighting design by Jeff Croiter (Newsies) and sound design by John Shivers (2013 Tony-winner for Kinky Boots) and David Patridge. Orchestrations and additional arrangements are by Steve Margoshes, music supervision and arrangements are by Brian Koonin and music direction and arrangements are by Seth Farber.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: If more of Soul Doctor was like that warm, darkly humorous and hesitantly emotional scene, the musical would be far more interesting than the awkward and clichéd point-by-point biography occupying Circle In The Square after a stint Off-Broadway and a regional tour...Soul Doctor may have a decent share of enjoyable moments, and sometimes even moving ones. But a housecall from a show doctor is definitely in order.
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Given this unusual blend of elements, it should be no surprise that "Soul Doctor" is a bizarre and at times bewildering musical. Carlebach's life certainly makes for a fascinating story...But "Soul Doctor"...lays out Carlebach's journey in mostly blunt, often hoary strokes...Carlebach's music, much of which was written to accompany traditional Jewish songs and prayers, is often beautiful and blends folk instrumentation with more recognizably traditional liturgical sounds. Mr. Anderson sings with a soft, captivating intensity, and the orchestrations often appealingly evoke Carlebach's original recordings. But Mr. Anderson's performance is limited by the superficiality of Mr. Wise's book.
Peter Santilli, Associated Press: The new Broadway musical "Soul Doctor" examines the life and times - and music - of Shlomo Carlebach in a unique, if plodding, study of a charismatic holy man who finds himself stuck between an unstoppable force and an immovable object. Carlebach, widely considered to be the modern era's father of Jewish popular music, makes for a fascinating biographical subject, even if the re-orchestrations of his staid, folksy compositions aren't quite lively or diverse enough to fill a two-hour, 30-minute musical...In the lead role, Anderson displays a formidable presence - and beard - with a disarming mix of placid shyness and childlike bursts of kinetic energy.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Director/book writer Daniel S. Wise attempts to cram far too much into the proceedings, which feel much longer than two-and-a-half hours. The choppily episodic storyline is enlivened by some three dozen songs written by Carlebach, mostly featuring new English-language lyrics by David Schlechter. Although simple in structure, they're undeniably infectious, and their joyous energy does much to fuel the evening.
Steve Parks, Newsday: Eric Anderson as Shlomo and Amber Iman as Nina spiritedly lift "Soul Doctor" beyond Old and New Testament realms...Shlomo and Nina's first encounter is worth even the Broadway price of admission...Neil Patel's Wailing Wall set moves us seamlessly to the jazz and hora beats of Seth Farber's orchestra and Benoit-Swan Pouffer's go-with-the-flow choreography...But we're most disappointed in the final tableaux -- phonier even than presidential candidates hugging after a primary slugfest. Zealots don't forgive perceived infidels. This is a biographical musical, not a Disney fantasy.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Lots of luck marketing "Soul Doctor" to a general audience. This worshipful musical biography of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, the so-called "Rock Star Rabbi" credited with infusing Jewish music with the musical idioms of 1960s pop culture, has obvious appeal for its core audience of fans. But there's nothing transcendent about Daniel S. Wise's plodding book or Rabbi Carlebach's "soulful" but dated music to lift the show out of its narrow niche and give it the universal appeal of a latter-day "Fiddler on the Roof."
Matt Windman, AM New York: Is there a doctor in the house? Not a medical doctor, or even a "soul doctor," whatever that is, but what is known on Broadway as a "show doctor," a playwright or director who can step in and salvage a musical with serious book problems. "Soul Doctor" - a new musical about the life of rabbi and singer-composer Shlomo Carlebach that comes off as a sanitized, overstuffed mix of "The Jazz Singer," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Hair" - is badly in need of such help...Despite all of these problems, one is still tempted to cut "Soul Doctor" some slack in light of its openhearted and accepting tone...As Carlebach, Eric Anderson provides an energetic performance that captures the character's spirit and sensitivity.
Adam Feldman, Time Out NY: The best that can be said about Soul Doctor, a strange Broadway musical based on the life and music of "singing rabbi" Shlomo Carlebach, is that it isn't as bad as it sounds...The songs hold up well-it's hard not to bop along to "Am Yisrael Chai"-and Eric Anderson's full, warm voice does Carlebach honor; Amber Iman is impressively poised as Nina Simone, whose friendship with him is the focal point of Daniel S. Wise's episodic book. But the show digs shallowly into its central character and his beliefs, and often rings false. The real Carlebach was a complex, fascinating man, with flaws as well as melodies...Reverent to a fault, Soul Doctor bleaches a story that cries out for tie-dye.
Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly: 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.
Elysa Gardner, USA Today: Alas, the musical's mix of hokey humor and preachy sentimentality is bound to test the most altruistic spirit...By the time he reaches Jerusalem -- near the end of Doctor, which runs two and a half hours with an intermission -- anyone still paying attention will have accumulated enough material for a goodwill sermon and a Borscht Belt comedy routine. Surely, there are more entertaining, less trying ways to promote universal harmony.
Philip Boroff, Bloomberg: 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...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.
Michael J. Fressola, Staten Island Advance: As the multi-sided Schlomo, Eric Anderson shows us more than once how joy detonates inside his character, expanding until he is bouncing up and down, practically fountaining love and warmth. How nice for him. But interested bystanders, some of us at least, might enjoy the joy ride too. But as delineated by director Daniel S. Wise and lyricist David Schechter, it skips past us.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Daily News: The show never moves beyond the basic chronology. Carlebach's precise place and significance in history remain as fuzzy as his bearded face, even after spending hours with him. Yes, he cut some records and gave concerts, and, like everyone, his life was a bumpy journey. While it's certainly not the aim of the creative team, Carlebach emerges as a novelty, a footnote in both the Jewish faith and folk-rock.
Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Actually, that hackneyed vibe applies to the whole show, from Benoit-Swan Pouffer's vague choreography to the groan-inducing dialogue. You often wish "Soul Doctor" had called a script doctor - especially when Shlomo's warned that he's "gonna do the horah/In Sodom and Gomorrah." To which even a gentile might sigh, "Oy vey."
Scott Brown, Vulture: he necessary gigantism of a Broadway production (even the relatively intimate Circle in the Square has an arena-like feeling) presents us with a question Soul Doctor isn't prepared to answer: Was this hippie rabbi a rock star?A guru? A teacher who did his best work in small kum-ba-yah minyanim? The man, the mensch, and the myth are never parsed with anything approaching curiosity. This is a singalong, steeped in deep fondness, which one can either meet or miss. The show doesn't insist, doesn't specify-only obsessively informs.
Rolbert Feldberg, Bergen Record: Sloppily, the show fails to mention that he eventually marries, in his late 40s, and has two daughters. Another misstep in the production is a big revival scene in a black storefront church: The excitement is undercut by having the parishioners played by square-looking white people (the result, no doubt, of a limited budget, which has actors playing multiple roles). The music of Shlomo Carlebach is appropriately honored in "Soul Doctor," but the show is wanting in almost every other aspect.
Michael Sommers, New Jersey Newsroom: A tiresome new bio-musical at Circle in the Square, "Soul Doctor" does not appear too long for this cruel Broadway world...Wise's clunky script sporadically features the charismatic rabbi's unlikely friendship with jazz stylist Nina Simone, a rebel in her own musical right...Although the premise holds some promise, Wise's repetitive two-act book is a drag while a curious sameness among the rhythms of Carlebach's music ultimately proves to be more wearying than catchy...The show, which also is directed by Wise, benefits enormously from Eric Anderson's warm, heartfelt performance as the rocking rabbi, whose presence enlivens this plodding event.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg