PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Soul Doctor — Shlomo in Slo-Mo

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16 Aug 2013

[flipbook] "It's not an impersonation. I think it's an honest portrayal of her soul. I just try to paint the picture, say the words. I want you to feel her pain, her sorrow, how hard she worked, how many doors were closed in her face. And she still had a mission and a calling in her life and a gift — all she wanted to do was share it with the world. People keep asking me if I channel Nina — when I listen to her music, I feel like we're best friends. I want to go out on that stage every night and make her proud."

One of the big backstage battles for this show was over letting Anderson have the show’s only solo curtain call — which meant, as late as the previews, Iman was sharing her curtain call (awkwardly, to say the least!) with Zarah Mahler, who plays a composite version of the two Mrs. Carlebaches. Happily, reason reigned. If Iman's glamorous get-up (a rich red satin gown, crowned with a turban of gold lame) didn’t cry out for its own solo bow, her performance certainly did.

Like Anderson, Jamie Jackson, who plays his rabbi father, sports a mass of unruly hair onstage but turns out to be totally bald offstage. "I always find it's a great challenge for an actor to step out of your normal, everyday experiences and to step into something you're not familiar with," said Jackson, a non-Jew from Down Under. "Being a rabbi has been a real challenge to me as an actor, and I've really enjoyed it.

"The accent is a great way in, and, of course, the costume helps an enormous amount when you have to inhabit that world and become that person. It takes a lot of time in front of an audience, I find, too — to feel legitimate in the role. The details start to come, and more and more physicality. It's like trying on a suit after a while. You start to know how to move, how to speak, how to look at the world through those eyes."

More honestly hirsute than the onstage Carlebaches is Ron Orbach, who plays the perpetual thorn-in-their-sides, Reb Pinchas, "a holy heckler." He confessed the show surprised him a little: "I love that it has so much heart. If people are responding to that, I'm honestly a bit surprised by it. You don't do a show and expect people are going to be clapping along every song — but that's what's happening. I don’t get it, really. Some of it comes from Shlomo fans, who, I think, are used to that. That's part of the way it went at his concerts so they think that's what it’s going to be and they get right into it — and the rest of the audience seems to want to come along."

Another Broadway bow was racked up by choreographer Benoit-Swan Pouffer, who didn’t try to hide his excitement. "I'm over the moon. It's special, iconic. I'm from Paris, and I've been in America for 20 years. I respect Broadway so much, and here I am, choreographing a Broadway show. After almost ten years as artistic director of Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, I thought it was time for me to challenge myself — time for me to open another door, and that door was Broadway."

Writer-director Wise thought the opening-night audience gave a good performance. "What I liked about every night is the audience. That's always my favorite part of the show. I would say a good portion of the audience is repeaters, and still they are laughing at the jokes and clapping along, celebrating the show. To me, that's a sign that we’ve reached our goals. We've brought this experience to a place that really is an embracing theatre — Circle in the Square. This show only got here because of the audiences. The investors always came from the audience. Most of our investors aren’t even Jewish, and the Jewish investors — most of them are secular. The audiences are loving it — they're having a great experience, and that's the most important thing. They'll telling their friends and coming back themselves."

View the Entire Photo Gallery
Neshama Carlebach and Eric Anderson
Photo by Monica Simoes

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