Off-Broadway Theater Review: SOUL DOCTOR (Actors Temple Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on December 14, 2014

in Theater-New York

DELIGHTFUL IN SPITE OF ITSELF

Ordinarily, a musical with a book as superficial, obvious and corny as Daniel S. Wise’s Soul Doctor would make me cringe. Add to this David Schechter’s on-the-nose lyrics being juxtaposed against complex subjects like the Holocaust, institutionalized racial subjugation, and the person of Nina Simone, and I’d expect myself to be in physical pain to have to sit through such a thing. Yet the charming cast, and the rousing, often moving, music of Shlomo Carlebach, whose life story is the basis for this bio-musical directed and choreographed by the very talented Mindy Cooper, are enthralling. Energetically much of the production feels like the dance portion of a Jewish wedding, and overall—not counting the scene in the black gospel church, which borders on caricature—the show is a joy.

SOUL DOCTOR with Josh Nelson and Dan'yelle Williamson. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Soul Doctor follows Carlebach (a loveable Josh Nelson), a.k.a. The Singing Rabbi and The Rock and Roll Rabbi, from his childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to his Orthodox upbringing in Brooklyn. It dramatizes his exploration, as a young man, of the Greenwich Village music scene and his friendship with Nina Simone (the vocally formidable Dan’yelle Williamson); his move to San Francisco, where he is a darling with hippies; and his return to Vienna, where he gives a concert in the name of reconciliation and love.

SOUL DOCTOR with John Plumpis, Rosalie Graziano, Erin Mosher, Josh Nelson, Hayden Wall, Debra Cardona, and Don Meeh. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Tristan Raines’ gorgeous costumes and Brad Peterson’s inventive projections are most effective in creating these different times and locales on David Goldstein’s simple and functional set. The actors use the space well, creating an atmosphere of inclusion and warmth with their dancing and singing. And although there is much silliness in Mr. Wise’s writing—especially when it comes to Simone and black people in general—one positive quality to his book is that it doesn’t dally; the story really moves, which goes a long way to mitigating its lack of profundity, and which helps make this intimate, energized production a whole lot of fun.

SOUL DOCTOR with Hayden Wall and Anthony Laciura. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Additional cast: Dianna Barger, Debra Cardona, Jacob Heimer, Anthony Laciura, Don Meehan, Hayden Wall, Lee Hollis Bussie, Rosalie Graziano, Janelle McDermoth, Erin Mosher, John Plumpis, and Jesse Swimm.

Cast of SOUL DOCTOR with Dan'yelle Williamson and Josh Nelson (both front). Photo by Carol Rosegg.

photos by Carol Rosegg

Cast of SOUL DOCTOR with Josh Nelson. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Soul Doctor
Actors Temple Theatre, 339 West 47th Street
Mon/Tues at 7; Wed at 2 & 7;
Thurs at 7; Sat at 8; Sun at 2 & 6
open run on tour through 2019
for tickets, visit Soul Doctor

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