NJ True-Crime Story Becomes a Controversial Musical

"A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill" is ostensibly about the 1994 murder of Carol Neulander by two men hired by her husband, a Cherry Hill rabbi.

Playbill for A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill

“A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill,” a musical about the murder of Cherry Hill’s Carol Neulander, opens in Los Angeles in June. Photo courtesy of Geffen Playhouse

A New Jersey true-crime story is taking center stage at a major regional theater in Los Angeles in June. But before a single note was even sung, the staging of A Wicked Soul in Cherry Hill has had as many twists as the crime itself.

Wicked Soul is ostensibly about the 1994 murder of Carol Neulander by two men hired by her husband, a Cherry Hill rabbi. The trial deeply shook the South Jersey Jewish community because of the rabbi’s prominence and his affair with a Philadelphia radio personality leading up to the murder.

Carol Neulander’s children and their temple are not amused by the concept of the play and have forcefully denounced the production—without having seen the show.

Matthew Neulander, one of Carol’s three children who is now a doctor in Connecticut, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that the family “is saddened and dismayed” by the theater production.

“This play cannot be excused as simply artistic interpretation,” Neulander wrote in an email to the Inquirer. “True art can produce and convey many emotions; it can enlighten and entertain and inspire, bring joy and amazement. At its most progressive, it can startle and question. It should not, however, ever injure, or be created at the expense of others. We assure you, despite the show’s description, there was zero ‘humor and chutzpah’ experienced that night, or in the years that followed, by anyone who knew and loved Carol.

“Anyone who had a role in imagining, creating, producing, or performing this play should have their motives questioned as thoughtless at minimum; cruel and wholly inappropriate might be more accurate.”

Rather than crafting a conventional musical with dialogue and a linear story, New Jersey native and playwright/composer Matt Schatz created a song cycle, with a series of tunes revolving around a theme or idea. In a statement, Schatz said the musical asks “essential questions about what we do when our leaders fall from grace” and investigates how a community gathers to recount and recollect.

If you’re visiting Los Angeles this summer, you can buy tickets online at geffenplayhouse.org. The show runs from June 21-July 24.

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