Monday, July 25, 2016

Review: Raul's Magical Memory Tour

By Michael Block

In order to move forward we have to remember the past. Our memories are with us forever, no matter how good or bad they were. In Jaime Lozano and Lauren Epsenhart's Children of Salt, a man returns to his home twenty years later to visit his grandmother. But before that can happen, he must come face to face with the past.
Inspired by a play by Hernan Galindo called Los Ninos de Sal, Children of Salt is a musical about memory. With music by Jaime Lozano and book and lyrics by Lauren Epsenhart, Raul comes to the beaches of Mexico after twenty years to visit his grandmother whose memory is decaying. The delayed visitation hits more roadblocks as he encounters people from his past. The plot very much makes Children of Salt a soap opera musicale. It's heightened drama. But book writer Epsenhart uses the memory device to tell Raul's story. Shifting from past to present, each encounter leads to an experience that changed the person Raul is. From his past love, Coral, to his best friend Jonas, Raul must face the past to accept the future. It’s a thin narrative but what keeps Children of Salt intriguing is the brilliant score by Lozano. It’s infectious. And the orchestrations are equally sensational, capturing the Latin flare. With a plethora of musical options, where Children of Salt needs some examining is through the book. Firstly, not every moment needed a song. It was exhausting and eliminated any element of surprise. Even though it’s based on a play, Epsenhart has room to explore.
photo by Russ Rowland
Character relationships could use a little more clarity, especially with Jonas, Coral, and Marina. To help that, perhaps cutting Camaron and his sister will make room for cleaner character building in other places. While they both are interesting stories, they don’t inform Raul's journey as much as the others do.
There’s no doubt that Mauricio Martinez is a superstar. Why he’s not an international household name is surprising. Martinez carried the show on his shoulders as Raul. He was a heartthrob with tenacity. Barrie Linberg as Coral has a dazzling voice and a stunning presence. Who the character was? Linberg tried to find something beyond the romantic interest. When we did see Martinez and Linberg together, there was innate chemistry. Relegated to backdrop plot, April Ortiz as Marina didn’t get to much opportunity to showcase her powerhouse vocals. But when she did, Children of Salt lived. As Angel, Joshua Cruz walked out on stage in a cowboy hat and managed to not break character. He was the antagonist of the story and a walking stereotype for bad ideas. His presence was strong but the character needed even more of charisma in the memory world.
Jose Zayas did a phenomenal job realizing his ideas. The concept was consistent. Was it the strongest for this story? Likely not. But when gifted a story that jumps in time, insisting that a vocabulary is constant is crucial for the audience. You just wish it was a bit cleaner. Scenic designer Arnulfo Maldonado allowed the audience to imagine the white sandy beaches of Mexico by simply dropping a carpet resembling sand, some rocks, and a long dock, on the Pearl Theatre stage and calling it enough. And it was enough. Lighting designer Zach Blane cleverly allowed the warm colors to play a dominating role in his design. Raul Ozuna dressed his company in linens and khakis and light colors that was evocative of the locale. Even though there was no wind, you could imagine the wind blowing through the fabrics. Where Ozuna and Zayas did struggle was finding a way to help the buddy quartet believably play kids. While the conceit would be different, maybe it would have been smarter to have four kids for the first few scenes. Some of those outfits were so ill-fitting that it was laughable, ruining the mood. The true hero of the creative team was choreographer Stephanie Klemons. Talk about utilizing the space! Klemons allowed her actors to move naturally while incorporating cultural dance styles. It lifted the music from good to great.
Children of Salt may not be an entirely original story but it’s one that shows much promise. Allowing it to stand on its own will be of great aid to Lauren Epsenhart and Jaime Lozano.