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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
— Simon Saltzman
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