Is there a doctor in the house? Not a medical doctor, or even a “soul doctor,” whatever that is, but what is known on Broadway as a “show doctor,” a playwright or director who can step in and salvage a musical with serious book problems.
“Soul Doctor” — a new musical about the life of rabbi and singer-composer Shlomo Carlebach that comes off as a sanitized, overstuffed mix of “The Jazz Singer,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Hair” — is badly in need of such help.
Carlebach, who fled Nazi Europe with his family as a child and went on to make Jewish prayer appealing to the flower children of the 1960s, is a fascinating figure, and his music, which has been supplemented with new lyrics, can be quite catchy.
The conflicts — which mainly revolve around Carlebach being caught in the middle of his strictly Orthodox Jewish family and his new friends, most notably the African-American jazz singer Nina Simone — are all dealt with in superficial brush strokes.
The production is also ill-suited to Circle in the Square, which is designed for shows staged in the round, while “Soul Doctor” is performed on a stage set up at the rear of the theater. As a result, most audience members will have a slanted view.
Despite all of these problems, one is still tempted to cut “Soul Doctor” some slack in light of its openhearted and accepting tone, which means overlook its haphazard structure and one-dimensional characters.
It does contain a handful of genuinely moving moments, and it’s hard to resist clapping along to the prayers.
As Carlebach, Eric Anderson provides an energetic performance that captures the character’s spirit and sensitivity.
Too bad they couldn’t have just done a concert of Carlebach’s work intercut with bits of narration instead of this bio musical.
“Soul Doctor” plays an open run at Circle in the Square. 1633 Broadway, 212-239- 6200, souldoctorbroadway.com.