Off Broadway Reviews
at The New York Musical Festival
True, there's not a ton of new territory being explored here (this is, admittedly minus some elaboration, the essential plot of Follies and many other shows), but lyricist-librettist Epsenhart and composer Lozano, whose work is based on Hernán Galindo's play Los Niños de Sal, have so attractively polished nearly every aspect of their investigation that it hardly matters. Raúl (Latin-American recording artist Mauricio Martínez) is believably tortured by his fraught upbringing in the present-day scenes, but subject to slow erosion when we trip back to the past: Much of the impact of the evening, which has been directed by Jose Zayas, comes from seeing the happy-go-lucky kid transform into a broken-down adult through experiences that happen to almost everyone.
These include adventures with friends, playful romances with girls, unexpected brushes with outside reality (including, but not limited to, death), and losing one's virginity. And honor, duty, and religion are among the themes tackled, gently but firmly, along the way. It's the cumulative effect of all of this, over the course of the years the story runs, that makes Raúl exactly who he is, and though there's a big gap in the middle (he escaped his town for reasons we only gradually discover) it doesn't feel like ityou can draw lines from each significant event to pinpoint the hows and whys of Raúl's mounting troubles and not be wrong. None of this is traditionally predictable, howeverEpsenhart in particular ensures that, even if the big picture is obvious, zooming in on the intricate details is the only way to completely understand what's going on.
Do that and you're rewarded with a surprisingly potent combination coming-of-age/midlife-crisis tale that functions as both disquieting object lesson and lively diversion. Though Epsenhart is primarily responsible for the former, Lozano takes over for the latter with her infectious Latin songs, which capture at once the unbridled ardor of youth and the haunting strains of aging regret. The ten-piece band (led by Geraldine Anello) features two trumpets, a trombone, and a saxophone that adroitly recreate the undulating beats against which Raúl grew up without every feeling like limp imitations; the choreography (by Stephanie Klemons) matches the music note for exuberant note.
Children of Salt, though professionally realized in every respect, from Zayas's fluid staging to the lovely disconnected beach mindscape set is by Arnulfo Maldonado, does have trouble maintaining its momentum. Though their show runs only 90 minutes, the writers struggle to keep it filled with relevant content until the very end, and push back a couple of key reservations longer than they should. The songs in the last third or so are also uncharacteristically weak and narrow-focused, taking more time than ought to be required to make simple points the more economic earlier scenes have already helped us to understand. And once the action has settled permanently in the present, the proceedings lose a bit of their wonder and magic as come dangerously close to wallowing with Raúl rather than watch him try to call out of his own oppressive circumstances.
Further drafts can, and hopefully will, address these fairly minor problems; this show is well worth the additional effort. Like Raúl, we're all tormented by what we remember and what we forget, and are forever internally reliving our pasts in hopes that somehow better outcomes will result, and that notion is captured here in an enlightening and entertaining way that simultaneously encourages both looking behind and trudging ahead. (In this respect alone, the choice of title was no accident.) Even if Children of Salt doesn't get all the additional seasoning it deserves, it's already a musical to savor.
Children of Salt