Soul Doctor

One day only nationwide screening upcoming

By: - Jun 06, 2023

Did you hear the one about the Orthodox rabbi who attended worship services at black churches and left inspired to compose a different kind of Jewish music?

It’s not a joke; such a rabbi existed. In fact, countless folks adored him. And you may have heard of him: Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach (1925-1994). This spiritual leader touched many worldwide with his soul-stirring melodies, transformative storytelling, and boundless love.

While chances are good that you have heard about Carlebach, perhaps you are unaware of his friendship with African American musical icon and pioneer, Nina Simone (1933-2003). She introduced Carlebach to Soul and Gospel music, “and a Jewish music and cultural revival was born,” reads press material.

The aforementioned press release from Fathom Events promotes the upcoming one-night-only nationwide screenings of Soul Doctor.

The nationwide screenings will take place in more than 600 select theaters on June 13. Taping of the film took place in Israel five years after the original Broadway production of Soul Doctor opened in New York in 2008.

Tony Award nominee Josh Young portrays Carlebach, while Nya plays Nina Simone.

Dr. Naomi King, civil rights activist and MLK’s sister-in-law said, “Any person watching this movie, it’ll shake ‘em, move ‘em, and change ‘em to help make this a better world.”

Susannah Heschel, daughter of Civil Rights icon Rabbi A.J. Heschel remarked, “Soul Doctor the Movie is a tribute to Nina Simone’s enormous influence. By inspiring and encouraging Shlomo Carlebach, Nina contributed to the extraordinary revival of Jewish music and spirit immortalized by Shlomo.”

After hundreds of sold-out performances on Broadway and throughout the world, you will have the chance to see the show perhaps at a movie theater near you.

The London Financial Times raved, “Whole libraries have been written about the similarities of historical struggle between Jews and African Americans. I have never seen them put across more eloquently than in Soul Doctor.”

And New York Theatre Guide enthused, “It’s been five years since I’ve seen an audience so actively involved as in ‘Soul Doctor.’ The laughter, the (hand) clapping, the shocks at the most dramatic moments. If you want to be moved in both head and heart, this show is just what the doctor ordered.”

Daniel Wise, who wrote the script and directed the show, has witnessed enthusiastic responses from audience members. For instance, following an early workshop of the production in Manhattan, audience members spent more than an hour dancing after the final curtain, he said. And on Broadway, “it was amazing to see the joy in that room from the audience,” Wise said during a telephone interview.

Wise said audiences have included not only Orthodox Jews, but people who are not necessarily observant. How do you explain the show’s widespread appeal?

“I think it’s a universal story,” Wise said, adding that the show is about music’s power to heal and transform.

Audiences can expect to leave with a feeling of bliss and unity washing over them, Wise said.

When Wise was a small child, Carlebach visited his home to perform a concert. Wise also knew the rabbi later in his life.

“Shlomo would go from house to house,” Wise said. “He was constantly giving concerts, and they would last for hours, sometimes till dawn. He was always meeting and embracing people. ”

Carlebach, dubbed “the singing rabbi” during his lifetime, hailed from Germany. Wise said that Carlebach was a “prodigious Talmudic scholar” who “lived a monastic life.” That is, up until he apparently felt that Orthodox Jewish culture and worship needed invigoration.

Carlebach’s search for inspiration took him to, among other places, the Midtown Bar and Grill in Atlantic City, N.J. There, Simone played the piano and sang for patrons. Carlebach met Simone inside the establishment, the pair started talking, and grew close. In fact, Simone brought Carlebach to black churches.

In addition to meeting Carlebach when Wise was a small child, he interacted with the rabbi shortly before his death. Wise said that Carlebach told him “Brother, there isn’t a black church in this city (New York) that I haven’t been to.”

“He reinvented himself and created this Jewish Soul Gospel music,” Wise said. He added that Carlebach became “the most prolific Jewish composer of the 20th century.”

To prepare to write “Soul Doctor,” Wise interviewed Carlebach’s friends, family members, and acquaintances, as well as Simone’s family members and friends. Altogether, Wise estimated he conducted about 2,500 pages of interviews. He added he was able to focus his narrative by identifying the turning point of Carlebach’s life. Specifically, that was when he met Simone.

“I thought it was very powerful, this friendship and what grew out of this friendship,” Wise said.

Both individuals were open to learning from each other, he added. That sense of openness and respect is unique in cross cultural relations, Wise said.

In addition to watching Soul Doctor, audiences on June 13 will receive “a very special message” at the beginning of the film from Executive Producer Lisa Simone. She is an American singer, composer, and actress, as well as Nina Simone’s only child. In addition, Lisa Simone is the Executive Producer of the Emmy and Peabody Award-wining and Academy Award and Grammy-nominated Netflix documentary about her mother, What Happened, Miss Simone?

Soul Doctor is a testament to the healing power of music,” Lisa Simone said in a statement. “It is medicine for the soul, plain and simple. The kinship between Nina Simone and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach demonstrates the influence we can have on each other when we look past our differences. Their impact on each other, and the world as we know it today, remains a beacon of what is possible when we follow our heart’s calling no matter the odds.”

The show was originally workshopped at National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene and subsequent productions in New Orleans, Miami, and Off Broadway, at Jazz at Lincoln Center, The Roundabout Theatre Company, and New York Theatre Workshop. Soul Doctor was the feature presentation at the “Israel at 70” Festival in Jerusalem, where the production was filmed.

Tickets for Soul Doctor are on sale through the Fathom Events website, and participating theater box offices. For a complete list of theater locations, go to Participating theaters are subject to change. Visit your local theater website for the most up-to-date information related to their health-and-safety measures.