Broadway entries out of left field often end up at Circle in the Square, one of the few houses on the Main Stem not owned by one of the Big Three theatre owners (Shuberts, Nederlanders, Jujamcyn). And so it was with Soul Doctor, the story of controversial "Singing Rabbi" Shlomo Carlebach, which was previously staged Off-Broadway, as well as in Florida and New Orleans.
Eric Anderson stars in the new musical ("Eric? This is a Jewish name?" — to quote Tony Kushner). Soul Doctor has a book by Daniel S. Wise, lyrics by David Schechter and music by, of course, Shlomo Carlebach. Wise directed.
Proving they are an inclusive bunch, the New York critics showed the religion-themed musical no favoritism. "Given this unusual blend of elements, it should be no surprise that Soul Doctor is a bizarre and at times bewildering musical," wrote the New York Times. "Carlebach's life certainly makes for a fascinating story...But Soul Doctor…lays out Carlebach's journey in mostly blunt, often hoary strokes...Mr. Anderson's performance is limited by the superficiality of Mr. Wise's book."
Variety chimed in, saying, "There's nothing transcendent about Daniel S. Wise's plodding book or Rabbi Carlebach's 'soulful' but dated music to lift the show out of its narrow niche and give it the universal appeal of a latter-day Fiddler on the Roof.."
Said Time Out New York, "The best that can be said about Soul Doctor, a strange Broadway musical based on the life and music of 'singing rabbi' Shlomo Carlebach, is that it isn't as bad as it sounds...The songs hold up well… But the show digs shallowly into its central character and his beliefs, and often rings false. The real Carlebach was a complex, fascinating man, with flaws as well as melodies...Reverent to a fault, Soul Doctor bleaches a story that cries out for tie-dye."
The Public Theater has, in recent years, toyed with the idea of splitting the Delacorte Theater summer season in two, one half given over to the traditional Shakespeare, the other to a musical revival. Sometimes this has worked very well (Hair, which transferred to Broadway and won a Tony). Sometimes it has not (Into the Woods).
This year, the Public decided to offer a new product: the world premiere (how many of those has the Delacorte seen?) of the musical Love's Labour's Lost, penned by Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson collaborators Michael Friedman and Alex Timbers, and based on the Shakespeare comedy of that name. It officially opened Aug. 12.
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