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.”