Culture & Conversation

Nina and the rabbi turned rock star

Soul Doctor tells the story of rabbi-turned-rock-star Shlomo Carlebach

Soul Doctor tells the story of rabbi-turned-rock-star Shlomo Carlebach

If you love music and choreography, do not miss Soul Doctor: Journey of a Rock Star Rabbi at the Segal Centre. This fantastic big stage production really rocks!

Soul Doctor is the world Yiddish premiere of the story of orthodox rabbi Shlomo Carlebach who became an international rock star in the 60s. The original English version ran on Broadway last year, and many of Carlebach’s songs can be found on Youtube.

As a boy, he narrowly escaped the Nazi anschluss by moving with his family to his native Vienna, and eventually ended up in New York. Ordained as a rabbi, he encountered the great singer Nina Simone by chance. His exposure to jazz and gospel led to his taking up a guitar and blending Hassidic joy with rock sensibilities.

According to one recent New York immigrant to Montreal during a cast talk-back, the Segal production was much better than the Manhattan version… which she had enjoyed so much that she saw it four times!

The 30 strong cast of volunteers was a blend of Dora Wasserman’s Yiddish theatre veterans, young people from its youth program and talented newcomers, most of whom learned their Yiddish parts phonetically. Sam Stein as Shlomo’s father and Aron Gonshor as an opposition rabbi anchored Adam Stotland (of local band Shtreiml) as the perfect incarnation of the protagonist.

A humorous scene with a recording studio trying to match Carlebach’s swaying to the stationary mike alone is worth the price of admission.

Coco Thompson was superb as Nina and Cheryl-Ann Lilieth impressive as her pastor mother. The Segal seems to always find young children with aplomb, here Jonah Presser, Aron Widman and Benny Winkelman-Batchelor.

Carlebach’s message of love, forgiveness and tolerance raises his message above the mere juxtaposition of two styles.

Jim White’s choreography and musical staging was, as usual, lively and spirited. Bryna Wasserman flew back from her new home in New York to co-direct this wonderful show with long time casting director, Rachelle Glait.

The English and French supertitles plus English dialogue with some characters, as well as an excellent synopsis in the program, make the events easy to follow.

Soul Doctor continues at the Segal Centre until June 29. For info or tickets call 514-739-7944 or visit them online.

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