Film Review: SOUL DOCTOR (Fathom Events)

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by Tony Frankel on June 11, 2023

in Film


Soul Doctor is a 2010 musical about Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, 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. Moving from Off-Off- to Off- to Broadway, the  dramatizes his exploration, as a young man, of the Greenwich Village music scene and his friendship with Nina Simone; 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.

Seeing the show live in 2014 was a mixed experience: Daniel S. Wise’s book is superficial, obvious and corny, and David Schechter’s on-the-nose lyrics being juxtaposed against complex subjects like the Holocaust, institutionalized racial subjugation, and the person of Nina Simone felt incongruous. Yet the charming cast, and the rousing, often moving, music of Carlebach were enthralling. Energetically much of the production felt like the dance portion of a Jewish wedding, and overall, the show, as bizarre and bewildering it was — could be at times joyful and uplifting. In other words, it was delightful in spite of itself.

On June 13, 2023 — the 10th anniversary of Soul Doctor‘s Broadway premiere — Fathom Events will be showing on 1,000 select theaters for one night only a version of the musical filmed in 2018 at the “Israel at 70” Festival in Jerusalem (for tickets, visit Fathom Events). Still starring the loveable Josh Nelson (Evita), who had been performing the show on tour (see review) and co-starring Nya (Caroline, or Change) as the music and civil rights icon Nina Simone, the advanced screener I received showed a muddled, weird, avant-garde oddity that was nearly unwatchable, given the manic direction by Wise, and the incessant editing by Or Benzrehim. Instead of highlighting the joyful goings on, the book felt even more choppy and pat. It was a huge mistake to film the stage show and try to make a cinematic experience out of it. The cast also includes Charlotte Moore, C.J. Tyson, Rebecca Kritzer, Marvin Meital, Yovel Moss, Allison Poccia, Lital Shalit, Toni Elizabeth White, Luke Wygodny, Jordan Zell, and Marc Zell and original Broadway cast members Richard Cerato and Abdur-Rahim Jackson (who also choreographs).

A special introduction to the movie was filmed exclusively for the Fathom audiences by Lisa Simone along with “Call, Clap & Sing Bootcamp” where famed percussion master Bashiri Johnson teaching audience how to Call, Step, Clap, and Sing.

The best part was a historical epilogue created by Colombian-born filmmaker Nicole Fernandez and Somondoco Films showing rare footage, bringing to life Simone, Carlebach, and other characters.

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