“So a Jewish Rabbi and a Jazz Legend walk into bar…” sounds like the premise of a borscht belt comedy act. To the contrary, it is a true story and the basis for the thoroughly engaging musical “Soul Doctor”, now playing at Broadway’s Circle in the Square. In 1957, a curious young Jew, Shlomo Carlebach stumbled upon a jazz club in New York City where he found himself mesmerized by the sultry singing of up and coming singer Nina Simone. They soon forged a friendship and joined forces, spreading a musical gospel of love and acceptance to a troubled world. Did Shlomo’s religious family approve of this? Of course not! This is musical drama after all. But, this inspiring, scrappy Jew persevered and continued performing his songs of peace, reaching multitudes who had been disenchanted by formal religious doctrine.
The show has so many winning qualities, two of which are its’ leading players. Eric Anderson’s portrayal of Shlomo is full of grace, humility, and humanity. In addition, his soothing, charismatic voice is sure to make gentiles and non-believers wish they were “the chosen ones”. Amber Iman’s Broadway debut as Nina Simone demands attention as she brings the show to a screeching halt with a silky smooth version of “I Put A Spell On You.” Michael Paternostro is a scene stealer as Milt Okun, Shlomo’s neurotic, money hungry record producer. The choreography by Benoit-Swan Pouffer perfectly captures the essence of the “flower power” sixties.
Daniel S. Wise (Book writer and Director) has provided simple but effective staging. His book , at times, tends towards banal territory but ultimately, the audience is left with an uplifting feeling of compassion and joy.
“Soul Doctor” itself defies convention as its’ source material is not derived from a movie or novel and it does not incorporate the “jukebox” musical formula. Instead, it is original, refreshing, and a welcome antidote to “safer” but far less interesting shows now playing on Broadway. Make an appointment for your spiritual check up and go see the doctor.
“Soul Doctor” is now playing at Circle in the square W. 50th street between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Tickets are available through telecharge.com, at the box office, or by phone: (212) 239-6200