In writing a musical you should always ask yourself this question…who is my audience? Both shows I saw today at NYMF have the same problems, but for different reasons. In this review let’s talk about Children of Salt with music by Jamie Lozano, book and lyrics by Lauren Epsenhart and arrangements/orchestrations by Jesús Altamira and Mr. Lozano, Children of Salt has everything going for it. The score is infectious bringing the sounds of Latin America, with an amazing brass section. The book fleshes out the characters and they all seem real, as a matter of fact too real. The choreography by Stephanie Klemons and direction by Jose Mayas is spot on, interesting and keeps our attention. The cast knows how to layer their roles, each playing multiple ages. They are beautiful triple threats. When they sing the score is only enhanced, especially when sung acapella. So what is it’s problem you ask? Let’s get to the plot.
Based on the play Los Niños De Sal by Mexican playwright Hernán Galindo, Children Of Salt has Raúl (Mauricio Martinez (currently starring in NBC Universo’s “El Vato”)), looking back at his past. In doing so he realizes he has spent a lifetime of avoiding people and uncomfortable situations, which has left him a mess. Upon learning of his estranged grandmother’s (April Ortiz) illness, Raúl has returned home to the beach to make peace and ends up confronting his demons. Unexpected meetings, unleashing an array memories. Raúl must confront his past in order to move on before he is turned into a pillar of salt.
The problem is the story is not geared to an American audience. At least not one who pays. Raúl world is filled with words that are offensive and politically incorrect that will and did have audiences cringing. In part of the story we deal with Sabina (Florencia Cuenca), a prostitute who started in her profession at the age of 12, because her mom sold her off to the highest bider, cocaine, heroin, drug related deaths and the selling out of souls. There is no ark and there is no true resolution, which makes all the hells, that are oh so real, just seem oppressive and make us want to run outside for breath. Through out it all there is this score, that is filled with light, passion, rhythm and joy. Even the ballads have this haunting richness to them, especially in the underscoring. But where does this play? Brazil? Latin American tours? Perhaps a TV show like Grease, Peter Pan or Sound of Music for Telemundo?
I must do a shout out to this cast: April Ortiz, Javier Ignacio, Barrie Linberg, Joshua Cruz, Mario Cortés and Nicolas Baumgartner, you each made your characters so believable and you sing amazingly. Florencia Cuenca you broke my heart with your story> Your voice is rich, lush and sensual, drawing us in and melting our hearts. Mauricio Martinez, you are a star. You captured a man who is so entrapped and allowed us to see his pain but also his innocents. We followed your story and wished for you to get the girl.
Both Jamie Lozano and Lauren Epsenhart are remarkably talented and with Children Of Salt being their first piece, it is inspiring. I can not wait to see what you do next.
Children Of Salt: Pearl Theatre, 555 West 42nd St. 7/23 @ 5pm, 7/24 @ 9pm and 7/26 @ 5pm.