Off-Broadway Review: “Children of Salt” Lacks Flavor at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre

Off-Broadway Review: “Children of Salt” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed Tuesday July 26, 2016)
Music by Jaime Lozano
Book and Lyrics by Lauren Epsenhart based on the Play “Los Ninos de Sal” by Hernan Galindo
Directed by Jose Zayas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jaime Lozano’s and Lauren Epsenhart’s new musical from Mexico follows successful entrepreneur Raul’s (Mauricio Martinez) return to his childhood seaside home to visit his ailing grandmother Marina (April Ortiz). The musical begins in the present and, through a series of flashbacks introduces the characters, their conflicts, and how those conflicts brought them and Raul to the present.

After seeing his adolescent love Coral (Barrie Linberg), Raul – now forty years old – regrets leaving his home after the death of his brother Jonas (Javier Ignacio) who died of a drug overdose. His failed relationship with Coral is not Raul’s only regret and his visit dredges up a myriad of memories – many unpleasant – that prompt Raul to want to “rewind” his past deeply regretting he failed to express his love for Coral. He also confronts Sabina (played with a soulful countenance by Florencia Cuenca) the prostitute who befriended him in his teens.

The musical employs the trope – here an extended metaphor – of the biblical story of Lot’s wife (the “pillar of salt” story) to reflect on the regrets of Raul and his friends whose inability to move forward threatened their ability to extricate themselves from their conflicted pasts.

Mauricio Martinez has a stunning stage presence and a powerful voice with a rich tonal quality and range. Joshua Cruz’s character Angel is as despicable as they come and Mr. Cruz successfully gives the character more angel of death than angel of mercy. Both Barrie Linberg (Coral) and Florencia Cuenca (Sabina) have strong voices that deftly interpret their songs. Sabina’s “My Mother Took Me to Mexico City” and Coral’s “I Married A Man” are exemplary. Coral and Raul’s duet “Morena, Carino” is perhaps the best song among the musical’s numbers.

At the musical’s end, Raul finally enters his grandmother’s home and reunites with her through their shared interest in collecting shells on the beach. That meeting stirs in him the desire to move forward in one of the show’s better duets a reprise of “Children of Salt.” The full company – characters among the living and the dead – sing “Tomorrow Starts Today.”

Jaime Lozano’s music is pleasant enough and features a variety of Latin American music styles including rumba, salsa, merengue, tango, and samba. Lauren Epsenhart’s lyrics and book are less pleasing and often diminish the overall strength of the musical. Many of the songs provide important exposition and the give the overall effect of a sung-through musical. Stephanie Klemons’s choreography is minimal and less than original. Arnulfo Maldonado’s beachfront set works well to accommodate the musical’s multiple scenes all lighted well by Zach Blane. The musicians, under Geraldine Anello’s direction are a superb group of performers.

“Children of Salt” works diligently to entertain its audience but falters with a weak book and inconsistently satisfactory lyrics. See the caveat below before deciding whether or not to attend.

Caveat: “Children of Salt” is meant for mature audiences only. There is an abundance of foul language and multiple depictions of drug use. There are also several unacceptable misogynistic and homophobic slurs which the writer could have easily avoided. Additionally, one of the characters is referred to as a “half-breed” in Camaron’s song “Tourist Season.”