Soul Doctor's Soulful Dancer

August 11, 2013

Soul Doctor
is not the dancingest show on Broadway (that would be Newsies) but it has some scenes where the dancing is central. The story is about Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, famed for the singing and dancing joy he spread in the 1960s. The musical, which officially opens Aug. 15, juxtaposes Jewish and black traditions, with deft choreography by Benoit-Swan Pouffer.

In the preview on Saturday, one dancer stood out because he expressed the freedom that’s crucial to the story: Abdur-Rahim Jackson, a Juilliard grad who’s danced with Ailey, Complexions, and Beyoncé. He shimmied and shook with no prescribed path for his limbs. His liquid quality allowed energy to radiate beyond his body, especially in the scene where he gets saved in church—because of the Rabbi’s singing of course. After that moment, I was watching him for the rest of the show—which I highly recommend.

The scene where Nina Simone and Shlomo meet (based on true events) is what I would call racially riveting. You could hear a pin drop during the dialog when they discover their share suffering at the hands of racist violence. (The book/libretto is by Daniel S. Wise, who also directed.)

Whether or not you have a special interest in either Carlebach or Simone, the larger story of the struggle between tradition and innovation applies to everyone.