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Theater review: 'Soul Doctor' needs some edits, stat

"Soul Doctor" is about a singing rabbi in the hippie era of the 1960s. Folk music rounds out a plot about faith.

The cast of "Soul Doctor" is ready to rock with the rabbi. Credit: Carol Rosegg The cast of "Soul Doctor" is ready to rock with the rabbi.
Credit: Carol Rosegg

What usually sends a bio-play (or bio-musical) south? The biographer doesn’t know what to leave out. Every detail is included. That’s certainly the case with the musical “Soul Doctor,” at Circle in the Square, which follows the story of Shlomo Carlebach (Eric Anderson), the singing rabbi from the flower-child Sixties. Its dramatic arc is as flat as a matzoh.

First we see Shlomo as a young boy growing up in Vienna at the start of the Nazi occupation. It’s compelling, but fleeting. A minute later the family has fled to Brooklyn.

There’s a little – make that a lot – of religious infighting. In the midst of the discord between and within rival Orthodox Jewish sects, Shlomo wanders into a club where a young Nina Simone is singing, and suddenly there’s a spark of a play, real people really talking. But the magic doesn’t last. A scene or two later Shlomo is given a guitar in Washington Square Park, and before he leaves he has a recording contract. He tours the world with a bunch of hippies, and takes care of a different bunch of hippies when he’s back in San Francisco. Don’t ask; we couldn’t tell you if you did.

The music in “Soul Doctor” is mostly folk with a Hebrew accent. There are a couple of lively numbers at the top of the show, but otherwise songs are unimpressive. Amber Iman is a soulful Nina Simone, but she’s not given much to work with music-wise.

Unlike off-Broadway’s “My Name is Asher Lev,” which makes Orthodox Judaism subtly intriguing and exotic, “Soul Doctor” makes it seem uninteresting. There’s so much material that everything gets short shrift, and the music doesn’t compensate.

‘Soul Doctor’
Open run
Circle in the Square Theater,
1633 Broadway
$135,
www.souldoctorbroadway.com

 
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