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This review by Simon Saltzman was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 4, 1998. All rights reserved.

Review: `The Capeman’

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

the 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.

Despite his 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 seem to 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. Although

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’s, as the 16 to

20-year-old Sal, as a form of life support. But what do we make of

Ruben Blades’ stone-faced turn as Sal, from ages 36 to 42? Notwithstanding

their 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 a 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 to be integral to the musical’s

concept (whatever that is). Yet it offers the kind of inventive and

exciting point of view that is missing in every other area of "The

Capeman." H

— Simon Saltzman

The Capeman, Marquis Theater, Broadway at 46 Street, New

York, 212-307-4100. $75 top.

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Ticket Numbers

Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway reservations can be made

through Tele-Charge at 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250. For Ticketmaster

listings, call 212-307-4100 .

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,

half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47th) is open

daily, 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

for Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and noon to closing for Sunday

matinees. The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade

Center, is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Saturday

from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; closed on Sunday. Cash or travelers’ checks

only. Visit TKS at: http://www.tdf.org.

A Broadway ticket line, 212-563-BWAY, gives information on Broadway

and selected Off-Broadway shows. Calls can be transferred to various

ticket agencies. Sponsored by Continental Airlines.


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