Arts: The Capeman crashes

It had a charismatic star, innovative sets and a big-name composer. But there was plenty wrong with Paul Simon's first Broadway musical, says Phil Johnson

AFTER a short but stormy flight full of turbulence, the Capeman's wings will flap no more. It has been announced that Paul Simon's Broadway musical is to close on 28 March after a run of just two months and 68 post-preview performances. Despite opening only at the end of January, the show - which cost pounds 6.8m to present - is already on its fourth director.

Savaged by the critics, targeted by Victims' Rights campaigners angry at what they saw as the martyr status Simon gave to the show's murderer- hero (the real-life figure of Salvador Agron, who died shortly after his release from prison in 1979), and struggling against severe internal problems, The Capeman was not, in truth, expected to enjoy a long life. Simon, who wrote both book, lyrics and music (with Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott getting a co-credit for the first two) has been quoted as saying: "What I enjoyed most about the experience, apart from the creative process itself, was the intensity with which the Latino audience responded to the play."

There is, however, a strong element of hubris involved. Simon brought his show straight into Broadway and suffered the consequences of trying to get it right first time in a milieu where shortcomings simply aren't tolerated. The role of Walcott - who has 40 years' experience with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop - was also unclear. The Capeman, it is safe to say, was Simon's baby and he must take the blame for the failure.

But was it any good? Well, yes and no, but mainly no. When I saw the show in preview at the beginning of January, paying my $67 for a seat in the stalls, it was evident that there was an awful lot wrong. The story itself - Puerto Rican teenager Agron kills two white youths in a gang- fight in New York, goes to prison, comes out again and dies - was made to carry an unbearable weight of mythic significance. Agron is a catholic saint-figure, he's a victim of racism, he's Christ himself. As played by the salsa singer Ruben Blades, who gave a striking performance full of bruised nobility, Agron does live and breath on the stage. But by splitting the central role between Blades and Marc Anthony - who plays the younger Agron - Simon cuts in half the potential power of the character from the start. It's fair to say that Anthony does not have the charisma of Blades, and that Blades does not really have much to do.

For all the show's admirable anti-racism, Simon paints a drippingly sentimental picture of Puerto Rican life. The island is a green paradise, Agron's mother is a saint, the zoot-suited gang Agron joins in New York to become the Capeman are poor, misunderstood youngsters, and it's fair to say that the climactic moment of the murder itself, and responsibility for it, is fudged.

But surely Simon must have got the music right? Well, some of it is fine, at least compared to the lamentable standard of contemporary Broadway and there are some lovely numbers full of complex, poetic lyrics, but every time a new number starts you tend to begin tapping your feet to, say, "Diamonds On the Sole of My Shoes" only to find that what you actually get is a less successful derivative. And an awful lot of the songs do sound the same, just like an awful lot of the singers sound just like Simon, the cast echoing his sweet-voiced intonation. Only Ruben Blades makes the music his own.

Where the show fails more than anything, however, at least when I saw it under the direction of Mark Morris, was the lack of a basic grasp of how to move a large cast convincingly around the stage. This was hard to believe from a MacArthur Prize-winning choreographer but the big musical numbers repeatedly failed to energise either the performers or the audience.

The sets by the British designer Bob Crowley were often wonderful, but given the holes in the story itself, they began to have a reductive effect. As another fitted kitchen came sliding out of the wings to represent the mother's apartment, and another deliciously skewed perspective rendering of a tenement stairwell fitted into the background, one grew less and less astonished.

Despite this catalogue of shortcomings, the show still somehow had the power to move you, especially at its close.

Increasingly disenchanted after his release from prison, and more and more hangdog of expression, the older Agron goes back to his mother's apartment, switches on the television and then dies. There's no big musical number, no moving death-song, no final dance-action. He just snuffs it, quietly in his sleep. And then you cry.

The Capeman may now have died too, and with it some of the sense of adventure that it was meant to bring to Broadway, but, if few remember Ruben Blades' performance and the brave, foolhardy but sometimes poignant sense of humanism and social concern that Simon intended, it wasn't entirely in vain. A small-scale workshop production with 10 actors and a four-piece band might be its next incarnation. Which is maybe what it should have been in the first place.

If not, there's got to be a role for Art Garfunkel in there somewhere. Re-title the show Bright Eyes, get in some gigantic fluffy rabbits like the animals in The Jungle Book and, hey, I think we might just be on to something.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks
tv

Regular cast member Ste Hay, played by Kieron Richardson, is about to test TV boundaries

Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
techPerils of 'text neck' revealed
News
i100
News
Stonewall CEO Ruth Hunt
peopleStonewall boss says many fear it could ruin their careers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Argyll Scott International: FP&A Manager Supply Chain

    Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Argyll Scott is recruiting for a Permane...

    Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property NQ+

    £30000 - £50000 per annum + EXCELLENT: Austen Lloyd: COMMERCIAL PROPERTY SOLI...

    Argyll Scott International: Retail Commercial Finance Analyst

    Benefits: Argyll Scott International: Due to further expansion, a leading inte...

    Langley James : Senior Technician; Promotion & Training Opp; Borough; upto £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum + training: Langley James : Senior Technician; Promo...

    Day In a Page

    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines
    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?

    What are Jaden and Willow on about?

    Will Smith's children have made waves with a gloriously over-the-top interview, but will their music match their musings?
    Fridge gate: How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces

    Cold war

    How George Osborne keeping his fridge padlocked shows a frosty side to shared spaces
    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    Stocking fillers: 10 best loo books

    From dogs in cars to online etiquette, while away a few minutes in peace with one of these humorous, original and occasionally educational tomes
    Malky Mackay appointed Wigan manager: Three texts keep Scot’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    Three texts keep Mackay’s rehabilitation on a knife-edge

    New Wigan manager said all the right things - but until the FA’s verdict is delivered he is still on probation, says Ian Herbert
    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    Louis van Gaal: the liberal, the enemy and... err, the poet

    ‘O, Louis’ is the plaintive title of a biography about the Dutchman. Ian Herbert looks at what it tells us about the Manchester United manager
    Isis in Iraq: Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants

    Isis takes a big step back

    Baghdad hails the retaking of the Baiji oil refinery as the start of the long fightback against the Islamist militants
    Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

    Bill Cosby: America’s beloved TV ‘dad’ or serial rapist?

    Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits: How to shop politically

    How to shop politically

    Ukip silk bow ties, Green Party T-shirts, and 'Iron Baby' romper suits
    The science of sex: What happens when science meets erotica

    Sex on the brain

    Fetishes, dominatrixes, kinks and erotica. They are subjects that should get the crowds flocking to a new exhibition at the Wellcome Collection