The show that resulted turned into a more formal presentation of Shlomo Carlebach's life, and even that proved to be too rich in incidents for a comfortable stage presentation already overflowing with his melodies. Critics were kind and constructive when the musical lifted off last August at New York Theatre Workshop.
His was a convoluted journey that started with a flight from Nazi Germany; a struggle with traditional Jewish dogma; sputtering into a 1960s folk-flavored career, hanging out with Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Timothy Leary at The Village Gate; and finally meeting his musical match with Nina Simone, creating a more melodic, soul-stirring form of Jewish music by fusing it with African-American spirituals.
Neshama Carlebach herself takes a bow for revealing to the world her father's relationship with Nina Simone and the wellspring of joyful music that came out of it.
"He and I were very close so he revealed a lot to me," she said. "He was my father, but we were really best friends. My sister needed him to be more of a father, but he was the father of the world. It's a miracle I had a mature relationship with him. I wish he'd been around longer. He was 69 when he died of a heart attack on a plane."
She had been singing on tour with him for five years. "When I was 15, he heard me sing—I'm sure something from Les Miz—and put me in his act."
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