Paul Simon's Broadway Capeman Opens Tonight

News   Paul Simon's Broadway Capeman Opens Tonight
Having used an extra three weeks of previews to let two show-doctors cut and sharpen The Capeman, Paul Simon will see his first Broadway musical open today, Jan. 29, at the Marquis Theatre.

Having used an extra three weeks of previews to let two show-doctors cut and sharpen The Capeman, Paul Simon will see his first Broadway musical open today, Jan. 29, at the Marquis Theatre.

More than 30 minutes have been cut from the Paul Simon musical The Capeman since Jerry Zaks took over directing and Joey McKneeley assumed choreographer duties, according to a report in The New York Times (Jan. 26), and others who have been tracking the show, which began previews Dec. 1 and postponed its originally-scheduled Jan. 8 opening.

Capeman director-choreographer of record, Mark Morris, reportedly was back working with his own dance company this week.

Four-time Tony winner Zaks -- recently joined by Smokey Joe's Cafe choreographer McKneeley -- were called in just after New Year's to shore up the pop musical.

Producer Dan Klores told the NY Times (Jan. 7) Zaks' work would be in "an unofficial capacity," with Morris remaining in charge of direction and choreography. (He'll be paid, but his name won't be in the official credits.) Klores later told the Times (Jan. 26) that Zaks is doing a "brilliant job" tightening the show and telling the story. Newsday reported (Jan. 19) that director Morris and co-author Walcott aren't even working on the show at this point, with McKneeley calling himself "part of the SWAT team."

Despite the turmoil, author Simon hasn't been shy of publicity on the show, having done a Charlie Rose stint on PBS, a David Letterman visit and an interview on CBS-TV's "Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel."

According to audience members who saw Capeman weeks ago and again in the last two weeks of previews, the show has undergone much cutting and changes in blocking, including less time spent in the prison in act two, and a revised ending.

According to the New York Times (Jan. 26), the show has been trimmed by nearly a half hour (to 2 hours, 25 minutes) , with restagings and new choreography.

Comparing Playbills from December and January, changes seemed minimal, with "Jesus Es Mi Senor" moving from the end of Act I to the beginning of Act II. Also, a trio called "Virgil and the Warden" has been replaced by "Escape From Fishkill." A song called "Children's Chimes" (which comes in between "El Malecon" and "You Fucked Up My Life" in Act II) was dropped.

Production spokesperson Amy Jacobs would not give specifics on changes in song order and choreography. She did say that the show has been staying with the printed scene/song order in the program, rather than inserting a special sheet into the Playbill-- a common practice when lots of changes are being made to a show.

Finger-pointing on what went wrong with the early weeks of previews has been gentle, though former assistant director James Lada told the NY Times (Jan. 26) that Derek Walcott was too stubborn when Mark Morris suggested changes to the book. By the same token, Morris may not have asserted his right as director enough, even when the producers were urging revisions.

Zaks, who's directing The Cripple Of Inishmaan at the Public Theatre in March, has to his credit the recent revivals of Guys And Dolls and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, plus The House of Blue Leaves, Lend Me A Tenor and Six Degrees of Separation. Zaks praised author Simon in the Times, saying "I get a sense he hasn't gotten a very good rap about collaborating, but the back and forth on this has been very open and very trusting."

For a while Nicholas Hytner (Carousel) was rumored to be up for the directing job. Klores confirmed to the Times that Hytner and Paul Simon's friend Mike Nichols had both seen the show and offered suggestions.

Production spokesperson Amy Jacobs confirmed Zaks' participation (Jan. 7) and said "changes have been made" to the show, but she was unable to give specific details.

Problematic word-of-mouth for Simon's musical, The Capeman, forced the postponement of the show's opening. Previews began Dec. 1.

Here's the official reason for the switch: " allow more time to rehearse and introduce new material into the show. The change in date will allow the creative team and company an additional 65 hours of rehearsal time. Despite not having the benefit of an out-of-town engagement, The Capeman team [is] encouraged by what they have learned from early previews and need additional time to complete the production."

The Capemanis based on the true story of a tabloid killer who becomes a poet in prison. It's the first musical by the Grammy-winning composer and singer Simon ("Graceland," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Mrs. Robinson," "Kodachrome," "America," "The Sounds of Silence" and "Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover.")

Tickets ($50-$75) for Capeman at the Marquis Theatre are on sale via Ticketmaster, (212) 307-4100. Previews will continue throughout the reworking stage at $55-$67.50 for tickets. Those who bought tickets for shows Jan. 8-28 will be entitled to a partial refund or can exchange seats for later in the run.

Simon has penned 36 songs for the musical, alongside co-writer and co lyricist Derek Walcott, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1994. Song titles include "I Was Born In Puerto Rico," "Satin Summer Nights," "Time Is An Ocean of Endless Tears," and "Esmeralda's Dream." A production spokesman called the musical style a mix of salsa, 'plenas,' and doo-wop. A CD, "Songs From The Capeman, was released Nov. 18, with Simon singing alongside Capeman leads Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony and Ednita Nazario.

Salsa singer Blades plays the protagonist at age 38, while 26-year-old Latino salsa star Anthony will play the Capeman at 16. Blades, an actor (The Milagro Beanfield War), is best known for his work with the musical group Seis de Solar.

Capeman's mother, Esmeralda, is played by Ednita Nazario. Renaly Santiago plays the "umbrella man," who serves as the Capeman's accomplice.

Capeman is being produced by Plenaro Productions, Dan Klores and Edgar Dobie, in association with James L. Nederlander.

Mark Morris, who was choreographer for the show's workshop, replaced Eric Simonson as director of the full project. Sets and costumes are by Bob Crowley; lighting by Natasha Katz; sound by Peter J. Fitzgerald. Also on the creative team: Wendall K. Harrington (projections), Stanley Silverman (co-orchestrator/music arranger/vocal arranger/consultant to Simon), Mark Silag (music coordinator), Roy Halee (sound consultant) and Oscar Hernandez (musical director/conductor/co-orchestrator).

Simon has been working for several years on this musical, based on a real life Manhattan murder case. The New York Times reported that practitioners of the Caribbean religion Santeria have been hired to drum and sing genuine Santero prayers in the musical.

"It's a New York Puerto Rican story," Simon told Playbill earlier this year, "based on events that happened in 1959--events that I remembered."

The musical tells the story of real-life Puerto Rican youth Salvador Agron, who wore a cape while committing two murders in 1959 New York, and who went on to become a poet in prison. Producer Dan Klores called him, "one of the finest Puerto Rican poets of his generation." According to the New York Post, Queens resident Agron stabbed two innocent people to death in NYC's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. He faced the electric chair but was sentenced to life imprisonment. After 21 years, then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller freed Agron, who died in 1986.

As if the producers didn't have enough to contend with, protesters -- many of them relatives of murder victims -- are upset with the musical. Kim Erker, a cousin of Agron's victim, Robert Young, stood outside the Marquis Theatre on the first preview night, Dec. 1, carrying a sign that read "Our Loss Is $imon's Gain." She told the Associated Press, "My cousin's murder should not be entertainment. There's a million stories in New York City, why pick this one? You don't do a murder musical to jump start your career. Would Paul Simon do this if his son was murdered?" She stopped short of calling for a boycott, however, saying, "I'm not trying to shut it down. I want Paul Simon to know that he could have talked to someone in the family so (some of) the focus could have been on the victims."

In response to that criticism, cast member Cass Morgan contacted Playbill On-Line via e-mail to say that some of Capeman's focus is on the victims. Wrote Morgan, "One of the show's most powerful moments is sung by the mothers. The song is called `Can I Forgive Him?'"

The protests got coverage on national TV and radio. AP reported that Capeman producer Dan Klores released a statement reading: "In no way, shape or form does The Capeman glamorize the acts or life of Salvador Agron. In fact, it examines the human being's search for redemption. Unfortunately, those who object to this artistic endeavor have no accurate information at all. Theatre, literature, film, opera and ballet have always wrestled with issues of good versus evil."

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