Archive for August, 2013
The reviews for Soul Doctor are in and they aren’t too pretty. Though reviewers find the principal subject of the musical (Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach) fascinating, there is universal agreement that the writing and music for this new musical don’t do his story any justice. The most positive elements of the production are solid performances by Eric Anderson (as Shlomo Carlebach) and Amber Iman (as Nina Simone), but even their efforts aren’t enough to save this show from being both strange and mediocre.
NEW YORK TIMES
“I think I can guarantee that the months to come will bring no odder musical than Soul Doctor…Played with self-effacing gentleness by Eric Anderson, Shlomo certainly makes an arresting figure…Then there’s the unlikely female lead: the great African-American performer Nina Simone, played by the suave, rich-voiced Amber Iman…Also featured: a Nazi who shoots dead a dancing, singing Jew in the show’s early scenes…Given this unusual blend of elements, it should be no surprise that Soul Doctor is a bizarre and at times bewildering musical…As is often the case with bio-musicals, we learn the notable turns of the man’s life — or at least those that fit comfortably into an unabashedly celebratory show — without really exploring his depths…Those with affectionate memories of Carlebach’s music may find Soul Doctor inspiring and absorbing. I found it disappointing that this intriguing figure came across as a bland, bromide-spouting relic of the hippie era, albeit one tie-dyed in classic Jewish guilt. Sometimes the most interesting and inspiring lives are the most difficult to dramatize.”
“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. The unusual score is lifted somewhat by a couple of pleasing gospel numbers and engaging performances by Eric Anderson in the title role and Amber Iman as Nina Simone, one of Carlebach’s biggest influences…In the lead role, Anderson (Broadway casts of Kinky Boots and South Pacific) displays a formidable presence — and beard — with a disarming mix of placid shyness and childlike bursts of kinetic energy…Amber Iman makes her Broadway debut as Nina Simone, oozing with effervescence and consistently thrilling the audience with her sterling voice and glamorous costumes…Soul Doctor should please Carlebach devotees and, for the uninitiated, the details of his exceptional life will stir enough curiosity to send them to Google for more. But despite the spectacular life journey of this socio-religious phenomenon, the use of his solemn hymns as the basis for musical theater is at best an ambitious, if godly, pursuit.”
“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; lyrics are by David Schechter and Carlebach, who died in 1994…This is a biographical musical, not a Disney fantasy.”
“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. Eric Anderson, who played Shlomo Carlebach in a 2008 production at New York Theater Workshop, has the voice and presence, not to mention the physical stamina, to carry off the demanding role of a character who’s never offstage…Helmer Daniel S. Wise has staged the hair-raising events of the Rabbi’s early life in Vienna with efficiency if not much originality…Unless you’re personally into it, there’s entirely too much of this ponderous religious pedantry to keep an audience alert. And while the cast seems to be in constant motion, the choreography is clunky and obvious.”
“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.”
First Date opened on Broadway yesterday to very mixed reviews – its apparently a show that you either love or hate. Small in scale and light in content, the show is nonetheless entertaining and fun, with Mr. Levi and Ms. Rodriguez holding their own and selling this predictable fluff piece brilliantly.
NEW YORK TIMES
“Who doesn’t love a blind date? Of course, by this I mean, who does? I had one the other day, with the new Broadway musical First Date. I’d heard little about the show, and its authors were entirely unknown to me. Didn’t go so well. Does any of the following sound familiar? An instant lack of rapport; a growing aversion as the minutes pass; a mysterious sense that time has suddenly stopped; a desperate hope that the apocalypse will arrive, preferably right this minute. Magnify those feelings, set them to bland pop-rock music, and you’ll have some idea of the oodles of fun I didn’t have during my evening at First Date…I have been harsh on this modest musical, efficiently if facelessly directed by Bill Berry, so I should underscore that Mr. Levi and Ms. Rodriguez are both appealing performers…I also feel honor-bound to report that the audience at the performance I attended seemed to respond with genuine warmth…But even those who can never get their fill of dating-game gags would have to admit that the singles-searching-for-love thing was a lot fresher back in the 1990s…by now it’s been thoroughly strip-mined and needs to be reinvented, not just rehashed and set to mediocre music. “
“An awkward blind date has the potential for great comedy — as long as it’s not happening to you. In an alternate world, such a date might unfold amid a series of snappy musical numbers with irreverent lyrics. As the clumsy encounter unfolded, maybe the couple’s inner baggage would even surround them with song and dance. That’s the entertaining idea behind the sassy new musical comedy, “First Date.” The overall tone is satiric, but there’s a sneakily persistent undercurrent of optimism in the fun, fast-paced production that opened Thursday night at the Longacre Theatre…The book by “Gossip Girl” writer Austin Winsberg provides the couple with plenty of flippant repartee. A madcap mashup of musical styles and lyrics blazing with one-liners are provided by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner. Director Bill Berry keeps a steady pace amid the dynamic musical staging by Josh Rhodes…Never mind love, will they even make it to a second date? The point is that after just 90 minutes with this mismatched couple and their comical parade of demanding advisers, we still care how it turns out.”
“Familiar material is delivered with comic verve and charm in this winning, small-scale tuner. It’s not surprising to read in the Playbill for Broadway’s First Date that book writer Austin Winsberg has extensive television credits, including Gossip Girl and Jake in Progress. This romantic musical comedy — first seen in a co-production by Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre and A Contemporary Theater — has a definite sitcom-like quality. But it also displays a genuine wit and musical flair that marks a refreshing change from the onslaught of overblown musicals permeating Broadway these days. Starring Zachary Levi of TV’s Chuck in his Broadway debut and Krysta Rodriguez (The Addams Family, Smash), this modest, unassuming tuner is a definite crowd-pleaser, although it may find itself struggling for tourist dollars when the bigger shows arrive in the fall…Not wearing out its welcome at a brisk 95 minutes, First Date has the sort of small-scale charms that make it something of an anomaly on Broadway these days, and would probably be far more at home in an intimate off-Broadway venue. But at the very least, it signals bigger things to come for its talented creatives and leading players.”
“You’d be forgiven if you thought that show might be Chuck — the short-lived series that made Levi a star, at least among the Comic-Con set…Levi is particularly winsome and adorable as Aaron, a decidedly square, salad-eating fella still smarting from a recent breakup to a harpy of an ex. His singing voice, like his character, is engaging but a little thin…Rodriguez, a veteran of Broadway hits like In the Heights and The Addams Family…projects an admirable magnetism as a brusque, red-meat-eating downtown chick who takes no guff, is repeated drawn to bad boys, and seldom carries a relationship past a second date. You can guess how this all ends, right? And you’d be absolutely right. While director Bill Berry keeps the story zipping along, he’s hobbled by a bland score (by Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner) that leans too heavily on pastiche as well as a paint-by-numbers book (by Austin Winsberg) that strings together a series of overly broad clichés rather than flesh out truly distinctive characters.”
“First Date, a romantic musical comedy about the horrors, humiliations and occasional happy surprises of blind dates, is cute (but not too cute) and sweet (but not too sweet). So, indications are that this appealing show will do well (but not too well) on Gotham’s Main Stem, despite having come out of nowhere and been assembled by no one you’ve heard of. Creative team of Austin Winsberg (book) and collaborators Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner (music and lyrics) should thank their lucky stars for Krysta Rodriguez and Zachary Levi, who are seriously charming as mismatched blind daters destined to become lovers. Ah, the joys of the modest musical, a rare commodity on Broadway these days but an ideal tenant for the intimately scaled and lovingly restored Longacre Theater. Helmer Bill Berry, producing director of the 5th Avenue Theater in Seattle where the show originated, makes judicious use of his resources. David Gallo’s unit set adapts to the various restaurants, wine bars, and cafes where all the dating and mating takes place, enhanced by the witty background projections of a big, bad, sexy city. The design is nice and tight, a perfect fit for the stage, which Mike Baldassari has drolly lighted in those deeper shades of midnight-blue-to-black (with splashes of red) that are universal signifiers of moody music, hard liquor and sex.”