As a number of baby boomer pop stars try their hand at musicals, Paul Simon is supervising final rehearsals for “The Capeman,” an original Broadway show featuring doo-wop and traditional Puerto Rican music. The play, which also stars singer/songwriter, Reuben Blades, is scheduled to open January 8, and an album of Simon’s performances of its songs will be released November 18.
The musical is based on the true story of Salvador Agron, a teenage Puerto Rican gang member who in 1959 was convicted and sentenced to death for the slaying of two teenage boys. New York tabloids named him “The Capeman” because of the black cape he wore as a member of his gang, the Vampires.
“I was aiming to write a story that would sweep you up and that examines the moral questions of forgiveness and the possibility of redemption,” Simon said Monday during a press conference following a preview of several numbers from the show. “I think I achieved that, but I don’t know. I’ve never done this before.”
Still, Simon is in good company. Pete Townshend won acclaim on the Great White Way with “The Who’s Tommy,” which opened on Broadway in 1993 to a two-year run and won five Tony awards the following year. Townshend is reportedly working on a new musical, as are Randy Newman (whose “Faust” was staged in regional theaters last year), Jimmy Buffet and Billy Joel.
“I didn’t set out to write a musical,” Simon said, “but the story came to me as a complete idea. Simon began work on the show in 1990, traveling to Puerto Rico to learn about bombas, aguinaldos, boleros, guajiros and other musical styles, as well as interviewing Agron’s family and reading his prison writings. “I wanted to write the story of Sal and his family and [the New York Puerto Rican] community. There’s still a lot of tenderness about this. There’s still a wound that hasn’t healed.”
The preview featured several songs that will also appear on the album, including “Bernadette,” “Born in Puerto Rico” and “Trailways,” sung Monday by Simon and Blades.