At the center of “Soul Doctor” are two musical artists whose work crossed cultures, continents and genres: the German-born “Singing Rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach and the American jazz great Nina Simone.
The same might be said of the people playing those two in the latest iteration of the stage musical: the American theater artist Josh Young and the singer-actor Ester Rada, an Israeli of Ethiopian descent.
Young and Rada top the cast of a “Soul Doctor” production that launches in San Diego next week, before touring to Los Angeles and Jerusalem. The show is a follow-up to the short-lived 2013 Broadway staging that starred former San Diegan Eric Anderson.
In real life, Carlebach — influenced by American folk-rock and the counterculture explosion of the 1960s — became a major figure in contemporary Jewish religious music. And while the extent of his friendship with Simone is a matter of debate, it seems certain he was likewise inspired by her music.
(Carlebach’s complicated legacy also has been reassessed in light of the #MeToo movement; allegations he had engaged in sexual misconduct came to light after the rabbi died in 1994.)
The show, in a new production directed by Gabriel Barre, is built around the music of Carlebach himself. Besides Young and Rada, its cast also includes Dylan Hoffinger, a locally raised actor who was named Outstanding Young Artist by the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle in 2012.
A quick look at the show’s stars:
- Originally from Wallingford, Penn.; graduated from Syracuse University.
- First experience with live performance (according to a Broadway World profile): Hired as a “Busch Street Boy” at the Busch Gardens amusement park to sing covers of Backstreet Boys songs.
- Nominated for a Tony Award in 2012 as lead actor in a musical for his portrayal of Judas Iscariot in director and ex-La Jolla Playhouse artistic chief Des McAnuff’s revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” (The production had a Playhouse engagement before its Broadway run.)
- Seen in San Diego most recently in the 2013 touring production of another Andrew Lloyd Webber-composed musical, “Evita,” playing the role of Che.
- Last Broadway credit: lead role in 2015’s “Amazing Grace,” another musical about a songwriter with a legacy of famous spiritual music. Young played John Newton, who wrote the lyrics to the hymn that gives the show its name.
- Born to an Ethiopian Jewish family in an Israeli settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron.
- Musical influences: As wide-ranging as American soul, reggae, traditional Jewish music and the sounds of such jazz greats as Nina Simone, whom she plays in “Soul Doctor.”
- Made her first splash as a “total unknown” at the 2012 InDnegev Indie Music Festival, where “immediately, within minutes, (she) became one of the great promises of Israeli music,” said the newspaper Haaretz, which added: “In the years since then she has fulfilled the promise in almost every sense.”
- Has recorded two full-length albums: “Ester Rada” and “Different Eyes,” and sang for two years on tour during her service with the Israeli Defense Forces.
- Has appeared in numerous Israeli films and TV series, as well as acting onstage; she also continues to tour as a singer.
When: Opens April 3. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays; plus 2 p.m. April 5. Through April 22.
Where: Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown
Tickets: About $25-$90
Phone: (619) 544-1000