Soul Doctor‘s Eric Anderson on rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, saying goodbye to Kinky Boots, and connecting with the music

Eric_Anderson,_American_actor

Eric Anderson

Eric Anderson is in the midst of one busy year. First as an original cast member of Kinky Boots and now as the star of Soul Doctor, he’s spent much of 2013 hard at work on the Great White Way. Soul Doctor, which tells the story of “rockstar rabbi” Shlomo Carlebach, explores his connection with singer Nina Simone and his gentle ability to lift audiences up with his positive music. Soul Doctor opened this August at Broadway’s Circle In The Square Theatre. Eric shared some of his onstage adventures with Stage Door Dish and offered his insight on life as an actor, the creative process and Shlomo’s fascinating life.

SDD: Tell me a bit about Soul Doctor.

EA: It’s a musical about an Orthodox rabbi [Shlomo Carlebach] who, through the discovery of the rock ‘n’ roll 60’s and soul music, is transformed into something of a rock ‘n’ roll rabbi. He becomes a bard of love and acceptance, and he becomes a man that wants to heal the world with music.

SDD: How did you first become involved with Soul Doctor?

EA: I auditioned for the show a couple years ago. Right after I got married, I got a call to come in for the show and I initially auditioned for another role. They called me back the next day and asked if I would read for Shlomo, and then the following day, I was brought in for a callback and booked it that day.

SDD: Did you already know Shlomo’s story at that time?

EA: I knew nothing about Shlomo going into it. I’m not Jewish, so I’ve never been privy to the culture. Once I did look it up, I was amazed at how great an impact he’d had in the Jewish world and as a symbol of modern Judaism. It’s really beautiful.

SDD: You did the show off-Broadway too, right?

EA: I did. This is my third go at Shlomo. We did a run in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, then we did the off-Broadway production. It’s been really exciting to watch it evolve from those early days to where it is now.

SDD: What do you think drove Shlomo and his work the most?

EA: I think Shlomo, from an early age, saw the world that he was raised in, and I think he saw that people, especially Jews, needed to be lifted up and needed some healing in life. So I think his heart really drove him and he really saw the good in people, and the impact that music can have on others. He strove to uplift and I think he really was able to understand what magic music can invoke.

SDD: As a performer, is that something you find in your life as well?

EA: Absolutely. I think any performer or any entertainer is, in some ways, a healer and a magician at the same time. I think if we do our job right, we are able to make people forget about their own life, if at least for a short amount of time. Hopefully we can offer an escape and a service.

SDD: Did you learn new things about yourself in bringing this character to life?

EA: Always. Every role that I’ve had a chance to play in life, no matter how extreme or how different than myself, you always have to be able to dig into your soul to find ways to make it as realistic and as viable to the story as possible. But I’ve taken life less for granted than ever these days, and it’s really made me grateful for being able to have the opportunity to invoke the joy and the qualities in life that I think too many people take for granted and forget about.

SDD: Did you find that there were some obstacles that stood out in playing and researching this role?

EA: Totally. The thing about Shlomo is, since he was an actual person and covered so much ground in his life, he had a lot of friends – many who considered Shlomo their best friend – and some of them had only met him once or twice. So he really had an incredible impact on the people that he met. The challenge for me is to be able to recreate that spirit in a way that the audiences who knew him and come to the show can revisit him and rediscover him. Therefore I feel like I have a bit of a responsibility to get it right because every night after the show I have at least three or four people that come up to me with their stories of how they actually knew him. When they’re able to say that I actually really captured the essence of who he was and his mannerisms, it’s really the highest compliment for me, having not met him myself.

SDD: What do you think it was that attracted him and Nina Simone to one another?

EA: I think that although they had many differences in where they were raised and how their appearances were on the outside, they were so similar at the core and at the soul. I think that their connection was really deep and very symbolic of what Shlomo stood for in that we’re all essentially brothers and sisters that can thrive with a common heart and a common goal in life – to heal and to move people. I think that they really got off on that.

 

Eric Anderson as Shlomo Carlebach in Soul Doctor

Eric Anderson as Shlomo Carlebach in Soul Doctor

SDD: Do you have a favorite song to perform in the show?

EA: The whole show to me is almost like one big song because once I really start rolling in it, I don’t have time to get offstage to breathe much. I like to sing “Od Yishama,” which is the scene at the end of act one. There’s a recording sequence where I sing the song in Hebrew. I really love being able to sing that song and do that scene because the audience reaction is so unlike anything I’ve ever really experienced in theatrical presentation. These melodies are all songs that many of the Jewish audience have grown up with. It taps into something in the audience that is really beautiful. When I do that scene, as the song picks up the audience begins to clap along with it, and you hear some of them humming the melody with you. So it becomes something more than just a typical song in a musical. It becomes a visceral experience, and it’s really exciting to be a part of. So I have to say that’s probably my favorite song to sing. I also like to sing “Sing Shalom” for the same reason – that I’m really able to connect with the audience. I really thrive on the familiarity that the audience gives me, and also the real acceptance and the enjoyment.

SDD: With the Circle In The Square Theatre being such a unique venue, do you think it influences that aspect and adds to the intimacy?

EA: Yeah, especially if you’re going to be breaking the fourth wall and actually trying to reach people and acknowledge them. It does help if you can see them, you can look them in the eye and it helps to stir it up. It helps me to be able to have a gauge as to whether I need to wind it up a little bit more. It just keeps me honed. I think Shlomo was all about reaching the people, so the fact that we’re able to have opportunities where we can walk down one of the aisles and sing songs as opposed to keeping it all on the stage – I think is a true benefit to us.

SDD: Having also been in Kinky Boots, what was it like to be part of a show that won the Tony Award for Best Musical? 

EA: It was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in the Tony Awards the week before I left Kinky Boots. So I really left on a high note, and they’re still my family over there. If you’re in this business and if you’re wise to it, you realize that every production that you’re in is your family. When you leave that production, you don’t lose that family, your family just gets bigger. I still check in with them, they’ve been so supportive, a whole group of them came to one of our first previews, and I love them like I love my current family. It’s a funny business in that you really see the people that you work with more than you do your significant other at home or your blood family. So you have to invest quickly and trust, and much like Soul Doctor, just open up your heart to it all.

SDD: Is there anything about being on Broadway that would surprise people?

EA: It’s harder than it looks. Especially, at least for me with this show, once I’m really on that stage, I don’t leave it for two and a half hours. With eight shows a week, it requires an Olympic mentality. You have to really take care of yourself, you really have to stay disciplined. So, if we make it look easy, we’re truly doing a good job, I’d like to think.

SDD: Do you have any unusual or hidden talents or hobbies?

EA: I’m sure I do somewhere. Some of them may be more hidden than others, but I like to be challenged. The minute that you’re too comfortable in this business is death, so to be able to constantly be faced with new challenges is a blessing. With this show alone, I’d never played guitar before I approached this show. So I had to learn to do that, and that was a real challenge and a technicality that I really had to approach face-on. I’m willing to try anything for a role, and I’m lucky enough to have been able to play a broad range of roles that allow me to gain new skills with every production.

Eric Anderson in Soul Doctor

Eric Anderson in Soul Doctor

SDD: Do you have a favorite word?

EA: Thrive.

SDD: What is your current obsession?

EA:  Salmon sashimi.

SDD: If you could delete any song from existence, which would you choose?

EA: “The Macarena.”

SDD: What is the last great show you saw onstage?

EA: Here Lies Love, even though that’s an interactive stage.

SDD: Who was the last person to make you feel starstruck? 

EA: My wife [actress Jessica Rush].

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway, who would you choose?

EA: I’m pretty happy where I am, but how about Lindsay Mendez?

SDD: Which Broadway star would you most like to have a drink with?

EA: Danny Burstein.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

EA: Humble, giving, clever, bearded.

About Claire H.

Writer, performer, picture-taker, New Yorker. Find me on Twitter at @Claire_Hannum.

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