Composer Paul Simon, whose The Capeman musical is now in previews for a Jan. 29 Broadway opening, appeared as a guest on David Letterman's late-night talk show Jan. 8, acknowledging, "I really didn't know what a Broadway musical was."
Looking preoccupied, Simon told Letterman that he conceived the show as a musical from the start. "It came to me as a complete idea," he said, but acknowledged "I didn't understand," how complicated creating a musical can be."
Responding to Letterman's questions about problems the show has had in previews, including protests over its subject matter, Simon said "Travail is part of it. You're really on a journey." He said that not knowing where a journey will lead is precisely "why you go on it."
Simon outlined the plot, a real-life story of a 1959 Puerto Rican gang member, Salvador Agron, who kills two teenagers in a Manhattan playground, while wearing a black cape with a red lining.
Letterman said ". . . It just seems downright depressing." To which Simon replied, "It ain't Oklahoma!," but then pointed out, "Carousel gets serious, too." That Rodgers and Hammerstein musical includes a character roughly like Agron. Agron kills the teenagers, then undergoes a transformation in prison, becoming a poet. Billy Bigelow attempts a murder, is killed in the process, and tries, from the afterlife, to help his fatherless daughter.
As a historical note: Oklahoma! scandalized some audiences of the time because it was one of the first major musicals to show the death of a major character on stage -- Judd -- and then go on to become a hit.
Noting the Letterman appearance coincided with the originally-scheduled opening date for the show, Simon said the delay was due to "a combination of illnesses," plus the realization that three extra weeks of work would mean "we'll really be ready."
Simon omitted mention of director Jerry Zaks being brought aboard the production to help director Mark Morris.
Pointing out that just three weeks remain to the opening, Letterman cracked, "You ain't still stitchin' up costumes, are ya?"
"Well, they are, in a sense," Simon replied, admitting that he's "a little bit nervous," about the whole process.
After a commercial break, however, the show's co-star Marc Anthony and chorus wowed the studio audience, with "Satin Summer Nights," a number from the show, after which they smiled warmly at the ovation.