Paul Simon's long-awaited Broadway musical The Capeman opened Jan. 29 to protests and generally negative reviews.
The musical, with libretto by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, tells the true life story of Salvador Agron, a Puerto Rican gang member who murdered two teen-agers in the late 1950s, then underwent a conversion as a poet while in prison.
Family members of the real-life victims demonstrated at the opening night performance at the Marquis Theatre, waving signs that said "Remember the Victims, Remember our Children," handing out anti-Agron poetry, and complaining to reporters that Simon was exploiting the murders. Reviews for the production were largely negative. Clive Barnes in the New York Post wrote "Here is the most bewitching and bewitched Broadway score in years -- music that, in a quite different way, only Stephen Sondheim has equaled," but going on to say "it was West Side Story particularized, de-prettified and de-balleticized. A tough call for entertainment."
Other reviews were not as kind, with The New York Times' Ben Brantley acknowledging, "The Capeman has been a labor of intense devotion for Simon," but saying, "It's like watching a mortally wounded animal. You're only worry that it has to suffer and that there's nothing you can do about it."
Though Mark Morris remains the director/choreographer of record on the show, and is listed as such in the Playbill program, it was an open secret that Broadway veterans Jerry Zaks and Joey McKneeley worked on the show for most the three extra weeks of previews the show, originally scheduled to open Jan. 8, had arranged. Those who saw the show more than once during previews said they tightened and sharped the show, and shortened it by a half hour.
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.
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.
Simon 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, 1997, 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 was 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. "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."