The Capeman

Music: Paul Simon

Lyrics: Paul Simon & Derek Walcott

Book: Derek Walcott

The Capeman, originally conceived by Paul Simon as a musical in 1989 when he was working on the Rhythm of the Saints album, tells the story of Salvador Agron, one of New York City's most notorious killers. In August of 1959, sixteen-year-old Agron, a member of a street gang known as The Vampires, murdered two teenagers on a New York playground. He became known as the "Capeman" because he wore a long, vampire-like black cape with a red lining while committing the murders.

The musical begins with Agron's childhood in Puerto Rico, then follows his family's subsequent move to New York City and explores the boy's unhappy home life, including frequent encounters with his stepfather. Although he is originally more interested in girls than gangs, Agron joins The Vampires after they come to his rescue when he is attacked by another gang. Later, when a friend is badly beaten, The Vampires go out looking for revenge, and although they never locate the rival gang that did the beating, Salvador ends up stabbing two innocent boys to death. Soon captured and sentenced to death, Salvador claims to be unrepentant.

The second act begins with a reprieve. Salvador's death sentence has been commuted by Governor Rockefeller. Forced to serve his time, the angry young Salvador begins to undergo changes in prison. He begins to grow up, and eventually decides to turn his life around. He writes to his mother, saying "I'll take the evil in me and turn it into good." He begins to correspond with a native american woman named Wahzinak, and when his feelings for her turn to love, Salvador escapes to be with her, but after having a vision in the desert, he turns himself back in. Three years are added to his sentence, and Salvador quietly serves his time, finally emerging into an unforgiving world that he soon learns will always see him as The Capeman--no matter how much he may have changed while in prison. His mother, however, receives him with open arms and, as the musical comes to an end, she tells Salvador of a dream she had in which an angel allowed him into heaven.

The Capeman opened on January 29, 1998, with a cast that featured Marc Anthony (young Agron) and Ruben Blades (older Agron) and a libretto written by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott. However, audiences had to make their way through picket lines because certain members of the community were upset that Simon had chosen Agron for the subject of his play. They felt that the musical was glorifying the life of a murderer, and they were determined to make their opinion felt. In addition, the play was attacked by the critics, especially the New York Times which seemed to launch a campaign against the play. Perhaps hitting the nail on the head, one critic from New York magazine wrote:

"The outlaw as hero is a ticklish topic ... Robin Hood gains a lot by being a medieval legend rather than a modern-day reality ... With Salvador Agron, aka 'The Capeman', the problem intensifies. He is fact, not fiction."

In the end, people were simply not willing to accept Agron as their hero, and although the play proved popular with the hispanic community, their support was not enough to keep the musical open. The Capeman closed on March 28, 1998, after only 68 performances. The songs on the cast album are performed by Paul Simon himself, with a few appearances by members of the original Broadway cast.

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