Anybody who makes the careless statement, "There is no such thing anymore as a quality musical in New York by unknown songwriters," has clearly not visited the West End Theatre at 263 West 86th Street, where MultiStages is currently presenting Temple of the Souls. With a book and libretto by legendary poetess and performer Anita Velez-Mitchell (yes, the mother of newscaster Jane from the Headline News Network on cable), music by the seamless team of Dean Landon and Anika Paris, and effortless direction by Lorca Peress (who also designed the amazing sets) and splendid choreography by Milteri Tucker, the show is proof positive that no great effort goes unrewarded. In point of fact, and in a season where even the New York Musical Theater Festival was barely able to display anything that might be considered Broadway-worthy, this brilliant show has every ounce of potential to head straight to the top and beyond.
The action most largely takes place in sixteenth-century Boriken, aka Puerto Rico. On one hand, this is simply a show about star-crossed lovers; Amada, the daughter of Spanish conquistador Don Severo and Taino (indigenous native of the land) Nana, never officially married to the gentleman, but retained as his permanent plaything and to look after the daughter for whose motherhood she can never confess. After hearing Nana's tales of the mythical Temple of the Souls atop a nearby mountain, Amada sets off one day to discover it for herself and in the process encounters Guario, another Taino with whom she falls in love at first sight, and he with her. Complicating matters further is that Severo has arranged a marriage between his daughter and her egotistical cousin Nemesio, whom she has only ever loved as a brother and who has surrounded himself with a bevy of six local girls from the village. But the story is so much more than simply a Romeo and Juliet or West Side Story fable; it is in fact an at-times-chilling account of how Puerto Rico was invaded by the Castillians of old and discarded all the very best aspects of Taino culture. The music therein is absolutely comparable with LLoyd Webber and Rice or Boublil and Schoenberg, but more than this, resembles what Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty could have done with Once on This Island if they'd had a little more time for development. And while none of the songs are instantaneously hummable, each is unbelievably haunting and couldn't have been crafted more beautifully.
Performance-wise, there's almost nary a quibble to be had. Jen Anaya, a true star in the making, is absolutely splendiferous as Amada, as is Joshua Torrez as Guario. Ricardo Puente comes across almost as a Latino George Hearn in his embodiment of Severo, and Kenneth Kyle Martinez is indescribably delicious as Nemesio. The ensemble of six women and four men are absolutely sparkling throughout, the easy standout being Bradley D. Gale, with a set of tenor pipes that virtually guarantee his future success on Broadway. If there is a weak link, it's the wooden acting abilities of Robmariel Olea as Nana, although her extreme facial beauty along with impressive talents as a vocalist and physical movements quickly override that point.
In addition, Bruce Baumer has done a bang-up job with the musical direction, as played by conductor/pianist Evan Closser, Sam Chernoff on cello and Joe Fee on percussion besides additional orchestrations that are pre-recorded. Of equal note, are Alex Moore's lighting design, Mark-Richard Caswell's incredible costumes, Josh Milligan's sound design and Kyla McHale's masterful masks and puppetry.
Temple of the Souls only continues to run until December 23rd. From there, it's a sure bet to ride the showbiz train to far greater glory. Buy yourself a holiday present and catch the show while you can!