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Paulanne Simmons

Looking for Love the Jewish Way

“Soul Searching”
Directed by Matt Okin
Theater for the New City
155 First Ave. (between 9th and 10th streets)
Thurs. 8 p.m. Sat 9:30 p.m, Sun. 3 and 7:30 p.m.
$15 (212) 254-1109 or www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Closes Oct. 2, reopens for previews Oct. 8 at The 45th Street Theater
For an opening night in Nov.
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Sept. 29, 2005-09-30

At last, a Jewish “Hair”! Only the new rock opera “Soul Searching,” is not about hippies in the 60s looking for love with no strings, but rather orthodox Jews in the 21st century looking to get attached.

Soul Searching is written and directed by Matt Okin, with music and lyrics by Avi Kunstler. It stars Shelley Dague as Brenda, a young and successful Jewish woman looking for the right man to share her life. Her friends, Rachel (Danielle Faith Leonard), Becky (Faye Meyer) And Sara (Elizabeth Woodard), all try to set her up with various suitors (“Log off J-Date; he’s the one for you,” they warble) even thought they themselves are for the most part unhappily married.

None of the suitors works out, however, when she meets each one in a local restaurant. Alan (Russell Feder) wants a wife who will wear modest clothing, live in Muncie and bear many children. Peter (Richard Lurie) is rich but shallow (“Me, Madonna and Tom Cruise, they’re friends of mine, we schmooze,” he sings). Mo (Aaron Grant) tosses off his yarmulke and forsakes his religion to be cool.

Despairing of ever finding her soul-mate, Brenda turns to Rabbi Perl (Avery Pearson) for advice. The rabbi soon finds himself smitten with Brenda. But do they find eternal happiness under the chuppah? The mystery is solved in act II.

Soul Searching is indeed very far from sophisticated Broadway or off-Broadway material. Its songs often run into each other monotonously. The acting is amateurish (although the singing is often quite good). And the plot – well, it speaks for itself. But somehow, there is something immensely attractive in the musical’s innocent charm.

Undoubtedly Soul Searching will be a hit among orthodox Jews. But even for the rest of us, it may well become a cult classic – a little like “Johnny Guitar” for the gay world and “Little Shop of Horrors” for cannibals.

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