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.”