Posted in Benoit-Swann Pouffer, Berkeley Festival, bio-musical, Bob Dylan, Daniel S. Wise, David Schechter, gospel, jazz, Jeremy Chess, Jewish liturgical music, Neshama Carlebach, Nina Simone, Reb Schlomo Carlebach, rock

"Soul Doctor:" When The Rebbe Met the Jazz Singer

The cast of “Soul Doctor,” including Ian Paget, Teddy Walsh, Ryan Strand, Alexandra Frohlinger, and
Abdur-Rahim Jackson surround Eric Anderson as Shlomo Carlebach (with guitar). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

It’s such an old adage that it is often dismissed as trivial, but music does have the power to unite and soothe!

In “Soul Doctor,” at Circle in the Square for what should prove a very long run, a fusion of musical styles seems to restore the “doctor” as much as it does his flock.

Shlomo Carlebach (Eric Anderson), whose autobiography is inspiration for “Soul Doctor,” created by David Schechter (lyrics) and Daniel S. Wise (book, and direction) from a concept by Jeremy Chess, with additional material by Neshama Carlebach, came to be known as the “Rockstar Rabbi.” Learning about him is one of the many blessings of this musical.

Stiff and bashful to begin with, Anderson’s Shlomo grows into the easy showman who goes everywhere to spread a message of love and peace. Shlomo even returns to Vienna, from which he and his family fled the Nazis when he was a boy. It’s Nina  Simone (Amber Iman), who invites him to join her in the 1972 concert in the Vienna City Square. Nina seems to have had a knack of recognizing what Shlomo needed for him to find healing.

Eric Anderson as Rabbi Carlebach and Amber Iman as Nina Simone in “Soul Doctor.” Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Admittedly, Nina Simone is an unusual hook for a story, but then this is an unusual tale about the unusual musical force, that was Shlomo Carlebach. Shlomo stumbled upon Nina playing in a Greenwich Village bar and they remained fast friends. She liberated his voice, and helped launch his performing and recording career.

Much of the music in “Soul Doctor” is a fusion of jazz, rock, folk and the Jewish liturgical traditions and gospel, written by Shlomo Carlebach, who died in 1994 at the age of 69.

Shlomo Carlebach, the hippie Rabbi, sang of “harmony and understanding.” He said “We have to show them a picture of a better world,” and went about changing millions “one by one by one.”

The large ensemble cast anchored by Eric Anderson as Shlomo and Amber Iman as Nina are terrific. There is some very original choreography that also helps carry “Soul Doctor,” by Benoit-Swan Pouffer. Nice work all around.

As “Soul Doctor” opens, and the cast wanders in through the auditorium and onto the stage, singing joyously, it’s tempting, if a bit glib, to say that “Hair” has met “Fiddler.”  “Soul Doctor” has much of the same life-affirming spirit of those terrific musicals. And  an uplifting spirit all its own, as well.

Visit to learn more about “Soul Doctor.”

Posted in Berry Gordy, bio-musical, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Motown Records, Smokey Robinson, The Jackson 5, The Supremes, The Temptations

"Dancing In The Streets" at Motown The Musical: It’s Not Just Berry Gordy’s Memories

There was a time when Detroit rolled out great big cars, and an even bigger sound. The music of the Motor City was humming in everyone’s ears, and playing “with a brand new beat” on and off the Billboard charts.

Berry Gordy’s memoirs turned into “Motown The Musical,” now at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre,  based on Gordy’s book To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, are condensed to bring us up to the 25th Motown Reunion in 1983.  His Hitsville USA studios brought an exciting new formula to
pop music. Motown records was modeled after the assembly lines of Detroit automobile factories where Gordy had worked.

Berry Gordy, Jr.’s (Brandon Victor Dixon) glam vision added lavish costumes and complicated dance moves to the “short stories,” as he put, in the songs his writers created. Gordy gave each of his groups their own persona– “The Temptations,” “The Vandellas,” with Martha Reeves (Saycon Sengbloh) at the helm “The Supremes,” with Diana Ross (Valisia LeKae) and Smokey Robinson’s (Charl Brown) “Miracles.”

Brandon Victor Dixon, center, as Berry Gordy Jr., with cast. Photo by Joan Marcus

“Motown The Musical” is a cover of many of the great hits Gordy’s studio produced over the years. With success came disappointments. The Supremes’ songwriting team of Holland, (Daniel J. Watts as Eddie), Dozier (Julius Thomas III as Lamont), Holland, (Eric LaJuan Summers as Brian) were among the first of many defections from the Motown labels. As soon as the acts Gordy cultivated gained popularity, a big studio swept in to gobble them up.

Sydney Morton as Florence Ballard, Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross and Ariana DeBose as Mary Wilson — aka The Supremes with Brandon Victor Dixon as Berry Gordy, Jr. Photo by Joan Marcus

Berry Gordy’s friend, Smokey Robinson, remained loyal, writing and recording many of the famous tunes from Motown. His early chart-topping songs was “My Guy,” which gave Mary Wells early success, soon followed  by the iconic “My Girl.”

“Motown The Musical” is part revue, part Awards Tribute show, and part an evening at the Palladium. With the grandiloquent flair Gordy demonstrated as an impresario, “Motown The Musical” is visually splendid. The choreographic numbers, by Patricia Wilcox and Warren Adams, from the celebratory dance after Joe Louis’s victory bout in 1938 to the smart-stepping moves of the Temptations, put a lively time-stamp on each scene. David Korins, sets, and Esosa, costumes, add their eye-catching verisimilitude to the timeline.

Was Motown an integral part of the civil rights movement? Or did the Motown moment coincide with great and necessary changes in the social fabric of America? Gordy did not intend to be a force for equality; he just wanted to make music that would move everyone. His talent for making money and spending it was legendary. Gordy’s skill in business meant he could cover the costs of his extravagances. Gordy fell in love with one of his players, and sacrificed a great deal to make Diana Ross a big star. With this part of the tale, “Motown The Musical” could be seen as a kind of “A Star is Born-Lite.”
Its story line is a little weak, but its production values are high and very stylish.

(There’s more review at
For more information on “Motown The Musical,” visit

Posted in bio-musical, living legend, Oklahoma, Patti Page, play with music

Side B was the beautiful "Tennessee Waltz"

Publicity photo of singer Patti Page pre-1978 from General Artists Corporation (management)

Clara Ann Fowler’s “flip side” is Patti Page, the singer (and woman) she became through a series of happenstances.

“Flipside: The Patti Page Story,” at 59E59 Theaters in a Front Page Productions/Square 1 Theatrics, in association with The University of Central Oklahoma, through December 30th, is a biography with music.

Greg White’s script (he also directs the play) features 28 of the 111 Billboard hits Patti Page sang over the years. The popular singer was born in a small Oklahoma town in modest circumstances, and discovered under the pseudonym of a jingle singer for the Page Milk Company at KTUL radio in Tulsa.

In “Flipside…,” her story as narrated by Clara Ann Fowler (Haley Jane Pierce) on the occasion of a 1965 tribute at KTUL for Miss Patti Page “The Singing Rage” (Lindise vanWinkle) with a sweet modesty and reserve. Clara will realize that hers is the voice of  Patti Page, and, as her daddy, Ben Fowler (Willy Welch) had told her, “‘Let ’em hear your voice, Clara Ann. ‘Cause there’s so much for them to hear.”

The modesty and down-hominess shrouds Patti Page’s accomplishments as an innovative musician. For instance, her recording of “Confess” has doubled up her voice for two parts — a technique born of necessity now known as overdubbing.  “We can’t afford two voices,”   her manager Jack Rael (Justin Larman) says. She was to sing echoing herself on a number of hits after that one was produced.

On one occasion, by way of illustration, “Flipside…” cheats in taking advantage of the technique– there are four Patti’s singing in “With My Eyes Wide Open, I’m Dreaming,” when Haley Jane Pierce and Lindsie van Winkle are joined by Jenny Rothmayer and Kassie Carroll in a Patti Page Quartet.
“Flipside…” makes the most of the sumptious array of gowns costume-designer Corey Martin has styled for it. Patti Page models a different one for each number.

There is a coda, a device not uncommon in the genre of biographical playwrighting,  in “Flipside…,” which helps us catch up with the singer today. At 85, Miss Patti Page is still performing. In 1998, she won a Grammy for her  Live at Carnegie Hall: The 50th Anniversary Concert.

For more information abut “Flipside: The Patti Page Story,” visit

It was sad to hear that Patti Page died at the age of 85 on New Year’s day 2013.

Posted in based on a true story or event, bio-musical, evangelist, Kathie Lee Gifford, musical theater, radio sermons, scandal

Shocking and "Scandalous"

There have always been determined women who’ve succeeded in a male-dominated world.

“It’s not man’s world, it’s God’s,” Aimee Semple McPherson (Carolee Carmello) tells Louella Parsons (Elizabeth Ward Land) in “Scandalous,” the new musical enjoying an open run at the Neil Simon Theatre.

Kenneth Ormiston (Andrew Samonsky) and Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The woman at the center of Kathie Lee Gifford’s (book, lyrics) “Scandalous” was a controversial celebrity evangelist. In 1927, Aimee Semple McPherson became embroiled in a morals trial.

Was she targetted because her large house of worship dominated Los Angeles and competed with the established church of Brother Bob (George Hearn)? Was it that she broadcasted sermons coast to coast that drew fire? Was she signalled out because she was a driven woman? Did she shock convention? The answer in “Scandalous” is all of the above.

Aimee Semple McPherson  (Carolee Carmello) and Borther Bob (George Hearn) in a photo by Jeremy Daniel.

A Holy Roller’s biography in music (by David Pomeranz and David Friedman  and additional music and lyrics by Kathie Lee Gifford) and song should have some exuberant singing. The music in “Scandalous” is muted as if intentionally tamping down the “joyful noises” of a Pentecostal service. Unexpectedly, the fiercest and most rousing number in “Scandalous” is one in which  Aimee challenges God, “How Could You?”

The company with Carolee Carmello. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

“Scandalous” is a lavish, if somewhat uninspired, musical play. The costumes by Gregory A. Paplyk are simply gorgeous. The Ensemble is hard working and well directed (David Armstorng directs, choreography by Lorin Latarro.)  Among the large cast, Edward Watts (in a dual role as Robert Semple and David Hutton, two of Aimee’s husbands, George Hearn (also in two roles as Aimee’s father and Brother Bob), and Roz Ryan as a madam, Emma Jo Schaeffer, who becomes Aimee’s assistant in the church, all stand out..

Aimee Semple McPherson welcomed the attention of the press and the public. She sought it out. Her hubris brought on her downfall. Or, as it happens, more like a stumble. The scandal in “Scandalous” did not shut her or her Angelus Temple down.

For more information about “Scandalous,” please visit 

Posted in bio-musical, Dusty Springfield, life in music, musical theater, pop-star

Singing R&B, with "Forever Dusty"

“Stay Forever,” was an earlier iteration of the musical play, “Forever Dusty” by Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin

We seem to label the pop-stars of the past as icons. And, if a pop-singer still has name-recognition, and a memorable hit or two or three, maybe we’re right to do so.
Dusty Springfield was a name to be reckoned with, had many a well-known chart-topping song in her day, and a forty-year career. All of which adds up to icon status, and “Forever Dusty,” at New World Stages Stage 5 through January 6th, is a loving tribute to her. (Congratulations–EXTENDED to March 3, 2013!)
Kirsten Holly Smith and Jonathan Vankin have created a well-written and engrossing bio-musical from the inherent drama of Dusty Springfield’s life story. The script takes liberties with the life, but is dedicated to its subject.
Dusty (Kirsten Holly Smith) emerged as the alter-ego of a shy Irish schoolgirl named Mary O’Brien. The drama of “Forever Dusty” is in Dusty’s complex and closeted life.  
 Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield. Photo by Thom Kaine.
Her ambition to make music with a Motown sound drove her to fame as a cross-over artist. The timid middle-class white girl from the England took on a flashy mod persona that resonated all over the world. She sang soul-inflected song after song, dressed in shiny high white boots and spangled dresses. The costumes, designed by Nancy A. Palmetier, by the way, are many and fabulous.
At the height of her career in the 1960s, there were potentially career-ending whispers that she was a lesbian, buried under tabloid rumors of involvement with Jagger or McCartney. Her private life was fuelled by alcohol and drugs. After several stints in rehab, her sobriety reignited her career and in the late 1980s. 
Kirsten Holly Smith as Dusty Springfield in “Forever Dusty.” Photo by Joan Marcus.
Kirsten Holly Smith has strong support from her cast, including Sean Patrick Hopkins as Dusty’s brother, Tom Springfield, Benim Foster as a record producer and a journalist, and Coleen Sexton in dual roles as Becky and Gini. Christina Sajous [recently as Arachne in “Spider-Man”and Shirley in “Baby It’s You”

is lovely as a back-up singer and superb as the gentle Claire.

The excellent on-stage band add an intimate night club feel. In “Forever Dusty,” the discography gets plenty of stagetime; it is reprised in concert  or studio-recording  reenactments. “You Don’t Have to Stay Forever,”  a song that exemplifies Dusty Springfield’s work, brought the house down!

For more information about “Forever Dusty,” please visit