Off-Broadway Review: “Temple of the Souls” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row

Off-Broadway Review: “Temple of the Souls” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Sunday July 23, 2017)
Book by Anika Paris, Lorca Peress, and Anita Velez-Mitchell
Music and Lyrics by Dean Landon, Anika Paris, and Anita Velez-Mitchell
Directed Lorca Peress
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Perhaps “Temple of the Souls,” the new musical being presented as part of NYMF, would be more powerful as an operetta, which would validate the melodrama afforded in this current production. It is yet another version of the ever-familiar love-struck youth from to different cultures, torn apart by their family and resulting in a tragic finale. Inspired by some truthful facts about the massacre of the Taino nation by the Spaniards in Puerto Rico, the fictitious love story and entangled subplots lack the unpredictable ingenuity to support the intermission less two-hour show. Creators Anita Velez-Mitchell, Lorca Peress and Anika Paris pen a laborious book with little credibility and mundane characters. Dean Landon joins Ms. Paris and Ms. Mitchell in producing conventional lyrics that are lackluster and neither subtle nor cunning. Music by Mr. Landon and Ms. Paris is pedestrian but fairs much better when serving the Taino tribal dancing and musical numbers. Ms. Peress lacks the ability of a director to extract plausible characters from her cast who rely on overacting and broad stereotypes.

The cast is uneven except for Lorraine Velez who turns in an emotional, intelligent performance as Nana. Also, Noellia Hernandez portrays the young lover Amada with innocence and the craft to move the character forward gaining strength and conviction.

Kudos to this production for developing a cast that is true to its Latino roots. The opening dance sequence thrives on the native ancestry of the Taino, and the music celebrates their tribal culture. In fact, one of the best musical numbers in the show is the reprise of “I’m Not Dreaming” in Spanish. The romantic language moves this duet to another level that is real and true to the characters existence, overflowing with emotion, reflecting love for each other and their heritage. This number may also stand out because it differs from the usual American Broadway pop style the remainder of the score encounters. Perhaps there is some confusion as to what the project wants to be and what it wants to accomplish. Too much material based on factual history obstructs the fictitious love story that is pure folklore and a capable vehicle to deliver the themes of racism, abuse and male chauvinism, while strongly conveying the pride of a Puerto Rican Heritage.