It’s the Vienna City Square 1978 at a public concert where the mayor is honoring Nina Simone (Amber Iman). She is vamping the song, “Am Yisrael Chai” (keep Israel alive) and introduces Shlomo. This is Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (Eric Anderson) who has been singing and “bringing light to people all across the world.” He is playing the guitar and accompanied by the Holy Beggars Band who enter down the steps from the audience and make their way to the stage continuing with this song.
There is protest from Reb Pinkas (Ron Orbach), Shlomo’s teacher, who is reminding him of what occurred here during the holocaust. As Shlomo talks about the Reb, the scene changes to the year 1938 where he and his brother Eli Chiam are playing ball during “Shabbiss” They want to enjoy themselves and the Reb says, “Being a Jew is about pain and suffering. Joy is for the Genitiles.”
Their father gets a letter stating that they must leave Austria in seven days. With the Torah that has been passed down for generations the move is to New York City. (What did you expect?). 1941, Shlomo is intent on reading the Talmud and his father starting a congregation. There have been several songs. In fact, expect to hear 35 numbers of an approximate 2 hour show with one interpishon.
As the two boys age, Eli Chiam will be “swept up by the Chassidim who will be dressed in long coats and wearing “peyos”, long curly sideburns. After much Jewish culture the scene changes to 1957 and Columbia University for a “wild Rosh Hashana dance”. The brothers, now singing together, are told that they need to “jazz it up” and given a flyer to attend the Smoky Piano Bar.
Scene change with Nina singing “I Put A Spell On You” as Shlomo enters. He is captured by the music and her. Nina will never get his name correctly and will pronounce it as “Shaylimo”. There will be plenty of funny lines in this show. She explains how it feels to be black and he explains his past in Vienna. They each realize that they must live their dream as Shlomo sings, “Ki Va Moed” (The time has come).
Shlomo is invited to a Baptist Church that Nina sings at. He is inspired by the energy. As he leaves he is confronted by the Reb and his father. However, the Reb makes negative remarks about the “schvartzes” and with that Shlomo’s father, a rabbi at his temple, fires Reb Pinkas. Shlomo’s father wants him to become a “traditional rabbi”. Shlomo says that he must do his thing and hands over his prayer shall.
Scene change to Washington Square where a chat with a “blind guitarist” who calls him a “Soul Doctor”. Shlomo admits that that is what he wants to be. It is at this point that Shlomo is taught how to play the guitar.
As the show continues songs will be sung that encourage the audience to clap along, but done so when the audience at the theatre is the audience that the performers are playing to.
Rather than continue with the plot line which includes San Francisco’s Haight Asbury (which is a reminder of “Hair” and the beginning reminiscent of “Fiddler on the Roof”). Amber Iman sings only a few numbers and certainly makes a hit with the audience. Eric Anderson get deserving thunderous applause many times. At one point, Shlomo meets Ruth (Zarah Mahler), who has fallen in love with him…love not returned. She gets a solo with “I Was A Sparrow” which certainly shows off her singing talent.
As for the show itself, if you are not Jewish or understand the Jewish culture, this may only be enjoyable in regards to the songs, energy of the show and the humor. Soul Doctor music was written by the actual Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and is meant to depict his life, with some “less truths”. Who cares? See it at Circle In The Square Theatre. Ki Va Moed.