ELISABETH VINCENTELLI, writing for The New York Post, looks at the new lease on line given the music from the failed musical by Paul Simon and Derek Walcott.
Why is there so much excitement over the concert version of “The Capeman” at the Public Theater next weekend? Sure, it’s free, and staged by Diane Paulus, who handled the popular “Hair” revival. But the last time the Paul Simon musical was the talk of the town was back in 1998. And the talk wasn’t good.
The show had a prestigious pedigree: Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott co-wrote the book and lyrics with Simon. Latin music superstars Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades and Ednita Nazario led the cast. Despite all that, “The Capeman” closed after 68 performances and lost $11 million. Many blamed Walcott’s unwieldy book. Some thought the subject matter wasn’t Broadway-friendly: Set in New York, the show told the true story of the fall and redemption of Salvador Agrón, a young Puerto Rican who killed two fellow teens in 1959.
And yet “The Capeman” had one thing going for it: A really, really good score. For years, it was preserved only through Simon’s 1997 record “Songs From The Capeman.” He even played it live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2008. But to fully experience “The Capeman,” you need the original cast album, which finally came out (on iTunes) in 2006. The songs touch on salsa, doo-wop and early rock, but come across as fascinating hybrids rather than pale imitations. Many, such as “Trailways Bus,” boast their author’s trademark melodic sense. Simon also wrote numbers that display the narrative drive and dramatic intensity typical of musicals, like the gripping “Can I Forgive Him?” For all its quality, Simon’s score struggled on Broadway. The songs are intimate, with no big, bombastic numbers. It’s easy to see how they got lost on the cavernous Marquis Theatre stage. They’ll find a more hospitable setting at the Delacorte.
Simon was among the first contemporary pop elders to try his hand at show tunes, and he got laughed out of town for it. But the time of “The Capeman” may finally have come.
“The Capeman,” Delacorte Theatre, Saturday through Aug. 16. Tickets are free; info at shakespeareinthepark.org.