Live Review: The Capeman - Rolling Stone
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Live Review: The Capeman

The Marquis Theater, New York, January 28, 1998

For months, industry insiders have painted Paul Simon’s new
musical, “The Capeman,” as a production under siege. But few blamed
rhymin’ Simon, who collaborated with Nobel laureate Derek Walcott
on the musical’s book and lyrics. Early preview audiences tended to
agree, generally citing “The Capeman”‘s buoyant score as its
primary strength in the difficult story of Salvador Agron, a
functionally illiterate Puerto Rican immigrant who killed two Irish
youths in 1959 and rehabilitated himself during his 20 years in
prison. But as enjoyable as the music might be, “The Capeman”
struggles to overcome the pitfalls of a story whose subtle
complexities demand a more thoughtful and complete examination.

After a colorful opening which centers around Agron’s mother,
Esmeralda (played by a delightful Ednita Nazario), and the Agron
family’s decision to leave Puerto Rico, “The Capeman” settles into
the pleasant, if familiar, territory of “West Side Story.” In one
of the musical’s truly moving numbers, the teen-aged Agron,
portrayed by salsa singer Marc Anthony, reclines on a fire escape
and sings about the “Satin Summer Nights” of life in the
barrio.

This prelude leads to Agron inevitably throwing in with the
neighborhood gang, the Vampires, and it’s here that
director/choreographer Mark Morris and Simon belie the rising
tension through scenes that cast the teens as genial misfits and
harmless pranksters. Unfortunately, such a light-hearted set up
undercuts the horrific nature of the double homicide Agron commits,
and the jovial doo-wop song which accompanied the actual stabbing
seemed woefully out of place.

As the play shifts to the older, incarcerated Agron (a sullen
Ruben Blades), “The Capeman” becomes entangled in a choppy and
disjointed storyline as the stretch marks from condensing its
original two-and-a-half-hour running time begin to show. The play
digresses through a series of diverse and emotionally hollow
narrative threads, the most quizzical of which features Agron’s
unrequited epistolary romance with a Native American activist. An
even more egregiously shallow subplot emerges when the musical
segues into a stereotypical “man vs. the system” conflict that pits
Agron against a racist prison guard who wants to keep the convicted
murderer from obtaining a college degree.

Eventually, any empathy “The Capeman” strives for falls into
entropy. On the run from the law in the Arizona desert, Agron
experiences an epiphany that leaves him hallucinating before a
singing St. Lazarus that can only be described as New Age self-help
meets “Easy Rider.” By the time Agron is finally paroled, the
audience feels just as estranged as he does.

Almost too literate at times, “The Capeman” seldom indulges in
the sort of staging (through no fault of Bob Crowley’s wonderfully
expressive sets or Natasha Katz’ appropriately motivational
lighting) that mixes theater’s immediacy with its capacity to
thrill with sights heretofore unseen. A story that remains worth
telling, “The Capeman” unfortunately blankets Agron

In This Article: Paul Simon

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