Shlomo Carlebach Comes to Broadway in 'Soul Doctor' Musical

Controversial 'Singing Rabbi' Has a Show All His Own

All Together Now: Eric Anderson, center, plays Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical, ‘Soul Doctor.’
Carol Rosegg
All Together Now: Eric Anderson, center, plays Shlomo Carlebach in the Broadway musical, ‘Soul Doctor.’

By Ezra Glinter

Published August 15, 2013, issue of August 23, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 3 of 3)

“Soul Doctor” suffers from other difficulties stemming from the life of its subject. Even though the musical casts Carlebach’s struggle as the fulfillment of personal spiritual destiny at the cost of family and community ties, the story isn’t simply about a son’s break with his father’s religion. The drama of Carlebach’s life was about inter-Jewish controversy, not a departure from Judaism à la “The Jazz Singer.” Unfortunately, that’s hard to translate into a general-interest musical. Why should a non-Jewish audience care that boring synagogue services are alienating the younger generation and need to be reinvigorated? Or why should a Jewish audience member, who is attending a musical rather than synagogue on Saturday (as I was), care either? It’s not clear why the substance of Carlebach’s rebellion was all that important, except to him.

It also doesn’t help that at two-and-a-half hours, “Soul Doctor” is overly long, or that it combines questions about post-Holocaust forgiveness and black-Jewish relations with the theme of religious conflict. Such weaknesses are partly overcome by top-notch performances — Eric Anderson’s impersonation of Carlebach is accurate to the level of vocal and physical mannerism, and Amber Iman is equally captivating as Simone, with whom Carlebach was apparently acquainted. But the problem with “Soul Doctor” is more fundamental: For all of Carlebach’s influence, his mission to repair the spiritual health of the Jewish people is not really suited to a Broadway show.

But then there’s the music. At the end of the first act, Carlebach is in the recording studio, laying down tracks for his first album. Lacking familiarity with professional recording techniques, he cannot seem to transfer his exuberant approach to vinyl. His manager is about to give up, when he has an epiphany. The problem is that, as Carlebach has been complaining, he can’t hear his own voice. Not literally, but figuratively: His spirit is being smothered by the slick studio-band accompaniment. To solve this dilemma, the manager instructs Carlebach to start singing first and the musicians to come in only when they “can’t help it anymore.” The idea works, and Carlebach enfolds the band, the producer, and the entire audience into an ecstatic song.

Here, “Soul Doctor” successfully conveys its real inspiration: the euphoric effect that Carlebach had through his music, and the reason his melodies are ubiquitous today. The full meaning of his legacy may never be resolved, on Broadway or elsewhere. But at synagogue services and campfire sing-a-longs, Hebrew school assemblies and now on theater stages, Shlomo Carlebach will be with us for a while.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter @EzraG


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.