Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Tale of a Feel-Good Musical Messiah

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

The Tale of a Feel-Good Musical Messiah

Article excerpt

THEATER REVIEW

SOUL DOCTOR

New Broadway musical, at the Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St.

Book by Daniel S. Wise. Music by Shlomo Carlebach. Lyrics by David Schechter and Carlebach. Directed by Wise.

With Eric Anderson and Amber Iman.

Schedule: 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $39 to $135. 212-239-6200, or telecharge.com.

"Soul Doctor," which opened Thursday night at the Circle in the Square, is about a challenge to tradition; it celebrates a new way of doing things.

But the musical itself couldn't be more old-fashioned and unadventurous. It's content to tell its story through cliches and creaky theatrical devices.

Written by Daniel S. Wise, who misguidedly served as his own director, the show is a biography of the rebellious Shlomo Carlebach, a rabbi who defied his Orthodox Jewish background -- and alienated his rabbi father -- by becoming an entertainer and hippie Jewish guru.

(In its sentimental telling, the story strongly resembles "The Jazz Singer," Samson Raphaelson's 1925 drama that achieved immortality two years later as the first full-length talking movie, with Al Jolson playing a cantor's son who breaks his father's heart by becoming a popular singer.)

Carlebach, played likably -- and sung well -- by Eric Anderson, was a fascinating figure, straddling the line between pop success and religious devotion, and achieving the status among his followers of a feel-good messiah. (His most lasting artistic successes are the Torah verses he set to music.)

The show, though, is content to tiptoe over the surface of his life, not caring to examine what made him tick.

It begins with his childhood in Vienna in the 1930s. Carlebach's father (Jamie Jackson) is presented as a standard good and pious man. His mother (Jacqueline Antaramian) is a burlesque of a character: a dispenser of one-liners, with more wheezing jokes than Jay Leno.

When young Shlomo and his brother play on the Sabbath, they're admonished by their religious teacher (Ron Orbach) -- the musical's bad guy, and Shlomo's disapproving nemesis throughout his life -- who says Jews are meant to suffer, not have fun; that's for gentiles. …

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