Recycling Themes and Motifs, a Soul Doctor Story

In addition to my overwhelming love of theater, some of my other interests include knitting (obvs), fashion and interior design. One thing I have learned following these industries closely - fashion especially - is that originality and innovation are not always on the menu. A welcome sight, yes…but a big portion of the industry is recycling motifs, design elements and trends in various combinations to appease industry influencers, consumers, press, etc.

Theater, in a relatively banal sense, is similar in that regard. Originality is growing increasingly rare and forget about innovation, to which most shows think including projections, death-defying choreography or some sort of flying trope lends itself to modernity. Fine - not every Broadway show has to be some groundbreaking new piece of wowballs.

Soul Doctor, now open at the Circle and the Square Theater, isn't exactly a show worthy of vehement praise or scorn creative-wise. Revolving around the famous Jewish rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, who became a music sensation in the 1960's, it had "standard biographical musical" written all over it in huge letters. My show neighbors - the standard mix-bag of out-of-town guests and older peoples, with the special guests of some Jewish folk - seemed to enjoy it. And I can admit, as wide as my taste is for all things theater, this was obviously not my "pastiche" as it were.


As show's go, it's hard to overlook how many aspects of the show are derivative. Worse, it is derivative of shows that creators should actively avoid allusions to.

Like say, the growing friendship between the white Jewish male Shlomo and singer, Nina Simone? That called to mind Memphis. The controversy of their eventual romantic lust? That would be the affair between Florence and Luther in Baby, It's You. The whole, religious prophet/zealot/whatever-the-eff the Soul Doctor's schtick is? Think Scandalous (or Leap of Faith). Facing adversity in foreign territory during the children years? Chaplin central, y'all. Our leading hero disappointing his upbringing and trying to find his own way in life and deviate from tradition? Just about any other show that is out there.

But the central relationship between Shlomo and Nina has some spark to it, probably the one aspect that transcended the phoned-in nature of the show. Their initial meeting at Nina's jazz club is fun to watch (and oddly affecting) and every subsequent encounter made me perk up in my chair, mostly because Eric Anderson and Amber Iman have an eff-ton of chemistry and are pretty likable as individuals, but REALLY likable when together. In fact, it was mostly a waiting game until the next time the two of them shared the stage.

So no, not my sort of show and it can be argued that it is barely decent for what it is. Not groundbreaking, not start-to-finish entertaining, and while I broke down the show as derivative of many more inferior shows that came before it, the end result is better then any of them (or at the minimum, the least offensive). And any remarks about forward-thinking theater are pretty much secondary issues because…well, what Broadway shows are original or innovative this past season? Pippin and a little Matilda and that is just about it. Singling out Soul Doctor would be arbitrary considering it is not the only show avoiding "pushing the envelope" and it can be argued that this wasn't the show or place to do it. It does leave a lot to be desired - and I couldn't really identify who this show was written for or why it is on Broadway (other then filling house in the meantime) - but yeah…it's here. And it is every bit cannon fodder until the Fall season kicks into high gear.

Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg

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