by Tara, New York Guest Concierge
I recently went to go see the new Broadway musical Soul Doctor which tells the story of Rabbi Schlomo Carlebach. I did not know much about him before the show other than he had been considered controversial by some and had performed with several musicians throughout the 1960’s. From the opening of the show, one would feel as if they were stepping into a 1960’s rock musical, reminiscent to Godspell, Hair, or even Jesus Christ superstar, but after the opening number, it begins with a more serious tone in the 1940’s and Schlomo’s childhood during World War II. One of the more traumatic though poignant parts of the show is when a man sings to young Schlomo about letting music into his heart and sharing it with the world and is then shot by an SS officer for singing.
Perhaps the best scene of the show comes when Schlomo first meets Nina Simone, who does a soulful rendition of “I Put a Spell on You”. They talk about their lives and their differences but also their similarities; the persecution of Nina and her family in the south shares a commonality with the persecution of the Jews during the Holocaust when they reveal that each of them had seen their family houses of worship burn down. From this friendship we see the emergence of Schlomo and his rekindled desire to let the music into his heart and share it with the world.
The story then moves along, shifting from Schlomo’s life as a rabbi and as a musician and the conflicts that this causes, as he tries to encourage modern day teenagers into following his old and traditional religion. The relationship with his father and his lifetime teacher become threatened as he tried to find where he belongs. He argues with his father that although his father wants him to become another Moses, he just wants to be Schlomo. In order to fulfill his dream, Shlomo travels to San Francisco to open the House of Love and Prayer, his own temple, to try to bring disenchanted youth back to Judaism. The subsequent scenes contain some of the most joyous, festive, catch music that Shlomo created during his career.
A family loss causes the rabbi to return home and face his family, and upon returning to the center finds that it had become overrun by drugs (thanks to a cameo by Dr. Timothy Leary). In response, Shlomo rounds up the group for an inspirational trip to try to bring them back to religion and righteousness. The show finally comes full circle with a call from Schlomo’s old friend Nina Simone, who invites him to sing with her in Vienna, the place he had grown up and was sent away from during the Holocaust.
This show is performed in one of the smaller Broadway theatres, and the performers do a wonderful job of keeping the audience included in their festivities. Despite some serious topics there are some jokes and laughs throughout the show with great quips and a little Jewish humor. I’d recommend the show to those that were fans of Schlomo Carlebach, interested in religion, or even fans of inspirational music.
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