Total Rating: 
Late Winter 1998
Ended 1998
New York
New York
Theater Type: 
Marquis Theater
Music/Lyrics: Paul Simon; Book: Derek Walcott
Mark Morris

What a disaster! A lot of talented people have gone astray in trying to give musical and dramatic structure to the story of Salvador "Capeman" Agron, a teenage murderer. The brainchild of celebrated pop songwriter Paul Simon, The Capeman is about the real life of a Puerto Rican gang member who, in 1959, at age 16, stabbed to death two white teenagers whom he mistook for rival gang members in a Hell's Kitchen playground.

With evident dedication, Simon has composed a lengthy but seriously unwieldy Salsa-peppered score. Despite their pulse and the occasional filtering down of Simon's crafty and complex musical style, the narrative-driven songs seriously overstate their social message, even as they undermine the inhospitable theatrical form in which they are mired. They certainly don't propel a peculiarly unfocused story that is as relentlessly grim as it is dreary. The stillborn book seriously hampers the ambitious, sung-through score, as do the stultifying lyrics, co-written with Nobel laureate Derek Walcott.

Perhaps the show's most shocking failure is the non-staging credited to Mark Morris, an otherwise acclaimed choreographer. Morris was one of at least four directors, the last being (uncredited) Jerry Zaks, who have tried to put some life and form into the show. One can only wonder what Morris, or his replacement choreographer Joey McKneely, had in mind. The only time I've seen less movement on a stage was at a performance of "Parsifal." The result is no more than a pointless and purposeless newsreel and scenery-enhanced oratorio.

It is amazing how little we care and how much less we feel about the two-dimensional characters that have been drawn from some potentially interesting real-life people. The musical's cleverest device (and not such a clever one at that), is the way it moves back and forth in time, from 1949 in Puerto Rico to the 1959 slaying and sensational news coverage, and 1979, the year of Agron's release from prison. Filled with incidental characters of scant interest that come and go, the musical is a parade of sketchy incidents that presume to trace Agron's life.

Unfortunately, the once arrogant and unrepentant Agron, who was born into poverty in Puerto Rico, raised in an arena of racism in New York, and apparently self-educated in prison, where he became a philosopher and poet, never becomes a real human being for us to care about. Though three different performers portray him, Agron is never seen as more than a cipher. We may choose to overlook the perfunctory actions of Evan Jay Newman as the seven-year-old, bed-wetting Sal. We may even consider the cape-wielding presence of Marc Anthony, as the 16 to 20-year-old Sal, a form of life support. But what do we make of Ruben Blades' stone-faced turn as Sal, from ages 36 to 42?

Notwithstanding singing capabilities, there is not a performance of merit in the lot. It is for Ednita Nazario, who plays Sal's long-suffering mother Esmeralda, to even approach what could be called heartfelt acting. She's also lucky because she gets the best songs. Like the numerous peripheral characters, Sal's love interests come and go without much ado or explanation. Sophia Salguero is pert and peppy as his teenage girlfriend Bernadette, and Sara Ramirez is arresting in the unnecessary role of Wahzinak, an Indian hippie groupie who corresponds with Sal in jail. More intrusive on his life is the mystical, golden-aura vision of Lazarus (Nestor Sanchez), who comes around whenever the going gets tough.

Set and costume designer Bob Crowley affords the show the awesome splendor of an Arizona desert sunset, the grandiosely abstracted view of tenements seen from the sidewalks, the rolling surf of Puerto Rico, and a prison seen from a totally new perspective. Gorgeous -- although none of the scenery seems integral to the musical's concept (whatever that is). Yet it offers the kind of inventive and exciting point of view missing from every other area of The Capeman.

adult themes, mild violence, profanity
Ednita Nazario, Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Nestor Sanchez, Sophia Salguero, Sara Ramirez.
Choreog: Joey McKneely
Other Critics: 
TOTALTHEATER David Lefkowitz ?
Steve Capra
Date Reviewed: