Playbill Poll: The Capeman Controversy

News   Playbill Poll: The Capeman Controversy
Newspapers columnists and victims' family members have protested that the life of murderer Salvador Agron, as told in The Capeman, is not a fit subject for a Broadway musical.

Newspapers columnists and victims' family members have protested that the life of murderer Salvador Agron, as told in The Capeman, is not a fit subject for a Broadway musical.

How do you feel on this issue?

As Simon himself pointed out, Carousel, in rough outline, tells a similar story. Fictional musical killers include The Phantom of the Opera, Mr. Hyde in Jekyll & Hyde, Kim in Miss Saigon, the father in Shenandoah, Sweeney Todd, and, of course, Tony in the 1957 West Side Story, in events that prefigure the 1959 Agron killing.

Simon says Capeman asks what a person must do to receive forgiveness, or even if people truly have the power to forgive.

But perhaps because the characters are based on real people and the victims' families are still living, sensitivities are heightened. Please explain your feelings on this question, and indicate whether you have seen the show. If you have seen the show, please describe how it deals with this question, and your reaction.

Send your responses to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at Playbill On-Line thanks, in advance, those who take the time to write. Here are the results do far:

From Robert Bullock:
While I have not seen the production, the materials written have given me some idea about the direction of the show. While it may be difficult for some to sit through, it is important that theatre continue to challenge us as an audience. As long as the piece does not grossly distort the facts, or libel or slander the parties involved, then I say it should be given a fair chance at being done. In the long run, it will stand on its' own merits as a piece of theater.
What is the difference of theater tackling tough subject matter when it is done in films and on television every day? Some shows are blatant in their portrayal of current events, especially crimes, and don't try to hide their biases about guilt or innocence. I don't hear a public outcry to censor or suppress these artists, so why try to do it to Capeman? (1/12/98)


From Mary Anne Prevost:
I see this piece as a combination documentary/rock musical.
I hope that The Capeman can be revamped because there are many good things about it. There is some really great music in this show. Thank you Paul Simon for The Capeman and all the wonderful music that you have given us over the years! The sets are art. Rueben Blades and Marc Anthony are really terrific and the woman who played the Native American friend of Agron's was breathtaking.
I cannot pretend to understand the grief that the families of the victims are experiencing. It is good that we remember their losses. (1/12/98) From McKenzie, Larry L.:
It has been my experience that the public will vote on the appropriateness of the subject matter at the box office. I have done a lot of theatre over the years doing the conventional shows R&H, Cole Porter, Lerner and Lowe etc. . . and have done some of the more unconventional shows as well, Assassins comes to mind. For the conventional shows we have had to add performances, for the unconventional ones we had a different crowd. These shows always push the actors to levels they thought they could not achieve. If box office is not the major goal then pushing the envelope is always a good thing.
I think the public is changing and growing more sophisticated as well. If you had tried to produce A Chorus Line in the 1950's you would have been laughed off of Broadway with it's frank acknowledgement of Gay dancers on the stage. The bottom line is QUALITY, QUALITY, QUALITY. If you have a good book and a good score almost anything has a chance. Without you have . . . poor reviews and an empty theater. Keep on writing and let the public decide, They will keep us honest. (1/12/98)




From Doug Gordon:
Shows dealing with real-life murderers are not uncommon. Even the current revival of "Chicago," which takes a tongue in-cheek look at the justice system and society's culture of celebrity, is based on a real murders covered by a reporter in Chicago, Illinois.
While I have not seen the show, I have listened to Simon's "Songs from The Capeman" album and am familiar with the story and the murders it is based on.
One might argue that a show such as "Phantom" is more exploitative than "Capeman," for the reason that the main character of Phantom shows little or no regard for human life and the consequences of murder. While damned to a life without Christine, the Phantom loses his love not because he is a murderer, but because love between his world and Christine's is impossible.
At least in the Capeman, the killer is tried and sentenced and serves time. No lessons of getting away with murder could be taken from the show, as they might be taken from shows such as "Sweeny Todd" or "Chicago." Violence is not depicted as something done out of love or for economic advancement. The murders depicted in "Capeman" are the result of mistaken identity, bad choices, and limited opportunities.
If Capeman were filled with gratuitous scenes depicting the victims' violent deaths, then, one might argue the show is exploiting the victims and being insensitive to the feelings of the victims still-living relatives. But it does not, nor do most Broadway shows. West Side Story features no dripping blood, no exploding body parts, and no extended scenes of horrible violence. If only the movies could be as creative!
Like anything that brings up memories for victims families, a musical based on a murderer will undoubtedly be difficult for those closest to the events. However, a musical based on a murderer is not necessarily a celebration of the criminal. While -- to paraphrase a line from "Chicago" -- nothing will bring back those who were killed, Salvador is punished for the remainder of his life, "Capeman" explores the thought process of a person who has made terrible choices in his life and how he deals with the effects of those choices.
Because of this complete picture Simon and Walcott paint of Salvador, it is difficult to argue that Salvador is celebrated or that his crimes are somehow romanticized by the very fact that they are being immortalized in a musical. (1/12/98)


From Peter Staley (
What the New York theatre community (and to a certain extent the New York public at large) needs to do is stop overanalyzing this issue. Mr. Simon's work ... his art ... needs a forum and a fair hearing. As others have stated, The Capeman is not the first time that the theatre has dealt with violent death, nor is it the first time that the theatre has dealt with reality. With so much scrutiny and so little actual stage exposure (the show is still in preview), we seem quick to judge.
I feel that an open, fair, and accurate treatment of an event that took place over thirty years ago (when many things were different) may help us to understand each other - and ourselves - a little better. And isn't that what good theatre is about? (1/12/98)


From Harper Strom:
I feel that Paul Simon, who is a gifted playwright, should be able to put on a musical about whatever he wants.For years, a little thing called poetic license has made many a writer able to do this.Look at some of our current hits:
Chicago: a fabulous musical that was originally based on a real murderess and the murder of a man whom she knew,"shall we say, 'intimately'."
Rent:it is electrifying and powerful and great, and it deals with drugs, sex, AIDS, and gays.
The Life:one of my favorites; based on the seedy Times Square, circa 1980, full of pimps, hookers, and gamblers.
These are just a taste, but don't get me wrong!!! These are all great musicals. Some may object to the content, but if you do, DON'T GO SEE THEM! It's as simple as that.
If you object to The Capeman, that's fine with me, just don't bitch (pardon) about it in public. As for me. . .I'll be on the front row, opening night!


From Karen A. Chase:
Any play, whether musical or straight has the right, possibly the responsibility to explore moral questions -- I have not seen Capeman, but from what I've read it apparently attempts to tell a story of redemption- something the Bible is full of. It certainly has more of a moral focus than say, Capote's IN COLD BLOOD, which simply told the story of a heinous crime with no remorse, or movies such as PULP FICTION and NATURAL BORN KILLERS.
The subject matter has to say something to the audience and make them feel that something has happened which affected them. I found this in another musical with a strange subject, SIDE SHOW, which, unfortunately couldn't find an audience, yet deserved it because it did have something important to say about love and prejudice and our perceptions of the world and the people in it. If Capeman can find the message it is trying to convey and say it clearly and forcefully so that the audience understands that something important happened to this character, that changed his life -- somehow made him a better person or changed others for the better by example, as happened in West Side Story, or he sacrificed himself as in J&H or did what he did for love as in Phantom, then the show would be worthy of an audience.
From what I've read, no one seems to know exactly what the authors were trying to say -- it can challenge you to think about whether there should be redemption and forgiveness, such as the movie DEAD MAN WALKING did, but it should not make you feel ambivalent and disassociated from the characters. You should leave the theater with a strong opinion about this person- not wondering what the whole thing might have been about. (1/13/98)


From JJ Baez (
I am someone who loves the theatre. And because of this love I have one thing to say on this issue...AS LONG AS THE SHOW STAYS TRUE TO WHAT HAPPENED IN REAL LIFE WHAT DOES IT MATTER!!! There are many shows out there that have shown real life events to us. Currently, the world's biggest disaster in history is playing eight nights a week and has won numerous Tony awards this past year - TITANIC. The Titanic story is one that is always retold in many ways. Everyone has a different view on the issue of Titanic, the proof is out there in the numerous publications and movies. In terms of the CAPEMAN, Paul Simon is showing a person who did a terrible crime, but later regrets doing it. I haven't seen the show yet, but I have read numerous articles and I strongly believe that Paul Simon should be allowed to put this show on Broadway without all the 'questions' that are coming up. If we have this much problems putting shows that have to do about real life events with murder or death TITANIC, JEKYLL AND HYDE, PHANTOM, MISS SAIGON, LES MISERABLES, etc. should all be banned from the theatre never to be seen again.
Please note: I am not saying this to be unkind and I really do feel for the victims' families, but it's just a show about an event in our history.


From Elizabeth Lee:
Although I cannot judge the show itself, since I have not yet seen it, I would think that while the victims' families are still living, this show is in poor taste. However, I believe commercializing the story of a serial killer is no different than turning a tragedy that killed hundreds into a musical, as Titanic has done. Those victims' families are still living, as well as are some survivors. Trivializing these stories by turning them into entertainment is a terrible thing to do. (1/12/98)


From Hamartia:
If anyone in today's society raises questions about the morality of The Capeman, I would like to be a little bird on their shoulder next time they buy a ticket to a movie such as Scream or Seven. I am a Christian Drama Teacher, wow what an irony. Liberal on one side and conservative on the other. We have no problem with the studios such as NBC, ABC, CBS, or Fox doing specials to get inside Manson or Dahmer's head, yet someone wants to say that putting a story of misfortune and bad decision should not be portrayed on stage. I beg your pardon, but The Phantom of the Opera is not a story of love, it is a story of greed and jealously that drives a pathetic man to murder to have his way. (1/12/98)


From Glen E. Kreiner:
I have not seen the show, and don't know if I ever will. I do not object to the storyline per se, but what I have read about the production's lack of sensitivity to the surviving family is a bit disturbing. While we certainly shouldn't "prohibit" artistic endeavors, it seems that the victim's family's feelings were largely ignored while developing the musical. That's a shame, because they are the ones who have suffered over the years. A little kindness and sensitivity toward their awful circumstance could have avoided this unnecessary and awkward controversy. (1/12?98)


From Cheryl Herin:
I have been a Simon and Garfunkel fan and a Paul Simon fan for 28 years, ever since I first heard "Bridge Over Troubled Water" at the age of eleven. I am also a big musical theatre fan and original cast album collector. So when I heard five years ago that Paul Simon was working on a Broadway musical, I was very excited. But when I heard what the subject matter was, my excitement diminished a little.
I knew Paul would get some flak about writing a musical about a real-life murderer. But having heard his album of the score, I am more positive about the project, although I am still somewhat uncomfortable. You make a good point in listing shows that have murderers as leads (including my beloved "Phantom"). [. . .] "West Side Story", which was running on Broadway at the time of the Agron murders, was criticized in some quarters for exploiting gang warfare.
In sum, I hope "The Capeman" is a success because I am a Paul Simon fan, but I am still ambivalent about it and I wish he could have lent his incredible talents to another subject other than a real-life murder case. (1/11/98)


From Doug Gaeta (
Well, I have not seen The Capeman, and despite what I have heard about it, I have no interest in seeing a show that is based on the true story of a murderer that murdered innocent people. The families of these victims are still alive and, I am sure, are very upset as to how this killer is portrayed. From what I have heard, at certain moments in the play, you are supposed to feel sorry for this killer. I don't see how someone can feel sorry for a murderer of innocent children who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I, for one, do not understand how this can be a subject for a musical. All the other shows listed, such as The Phantom of the Opera, Jekyll and Hyde, and Miss Saigon can really not be compared in this situation because they are all fiction. (1/11/98)


From vanorman (
The Capeman's message shouldn't be the subject of any controversy. A man commits a crime as a disadvantaged juvenile and spends the rest of his miserable life in prison. He sees the error of his ways, but it makes no difference -- the crime was committed and his life was destroyed. There is no glorification and little forgiveness from anyone aside from his mother. The message I got was that it doesn't matter if you were a "different person" when you committed the crime -- you'll carry its weight on you for the rest of your life. In the end you are accountable to yourself and true reckoning occurs within.
Any controversy should come out of the staging of the production -- it's criminal for such a well-funded production to have the number of loose ends Capeman does. I saw the show Dec. 31st. (1/11/98)


From Eric Engel:
ANY subject is suitable for a broadway musical since their purpose is to make you feel the characters are real (whether fictional or not).
I have seen The Capeman. I don't mind the subject matter -- in fact, it brings a piece of history back into the public's mind (and for those of us who were too young, tells the story for the first time). However, I feel that the production is so unfocused that the audience does not care about any of the characters. The character development is so poor that the audience could not have any emotions for them. The score does nothing to complement or enhance the emotional content either. I left the theatre thinking, "So why write a musical about him? He had not spectacular story to tell; no grand achievement. What was this story supposed to tell us?" Because the musical failed to take us through our emotions, it failed to create interest and failed to teach us something.
I entered the theatre expecting a very powerful story. I left the theatre thinking, "So what?". (1/12/98)


From Beaellie:
I have yet to see "The Capeman" but it's plot is not what would keep me away from it. In my opinion, any subject is appropriate for theater. It should be up to the audience members to decide if they like/dislike the production.
Can you say "Assassins" or "Evita" or "Jekyll & Hyde"? Odd subjects for a musical but they work and their creators had every right (freedom) to make them as does "The Capeman" creators.
If it works as a musical remains to be decided. (1/10/98)


From Robert P. Schneider:
I think it's absurd to dictate to artists about what constitutes "suitable" subject matter. I saw Capeman the last week in December and I don't feel it glorifies Agron, but it sure doesn't make him a heinous villain. He is portrayed as a neglected kid trying to make it on the streets who makes a stupid mistake out of bravado and winds up wrecking his life; probably close to the truth. I really feel this is a non-issue and the victims' families are misguided in their protesting. Simon has the right to examine this incident, as other artists have done to similar incidents over the years. That said, the show looks great, is filled with talented performers, but is a horrible mess. The book and songs are pretty awful and the show drags. The documentary footage of the real Agron is ten times more interesting than anything on stage. They can call in 25 new directors but until they get a new composer and author this show will fold quickly. (1/10/98)

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