I must have been busy doing homework all through the 1960s because I never heard of Shlomo Carlebach, but it turns out he was one of the biggest Jewish presences on the hit parade.
Shlomo was known as the father of popular Jewish music and, once he got a label deal, he earned the tag “the Rock and Roll Rabbi,” performing with the other acts of the day like Dylan, Jefferson Airplane, and the Grateful Dead.
A new musical called Soul Doctor recreates all of that, plus his unexpected friendship with stormy soul singer Nina Simone, who dug his music and his messages.
The show is long and unwieldy, but there’s some nice stuff, particular the bits between the rabbi and Nina.
Shlomo (well played by Eric Anderson) comes across Simone (an absolutely wonderful Erica Ash) in a club where she’s playing for tips, bitter about the way her race proved a barrier to her classical career.
This is the first time Shlomo has ever spoken to a female stranger–and it’s amazing that he unwittingly picked one of the greatest ones of the whole century–but things get rocky when he claims to know how she feels about oppression.
Simone blows up in a rage, until he explains that he grew up in Vienna when the Nazis came in.
That cements their bond, which proves to be pretty lovely and unconventional.
I smell a spinoff:
The Rock and Roll Rabbi and the High Priestess of Soul?
Shlomo and Simone?
Or just Eric and Erica?