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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