At issue is The Capeman, which opened in previews in New York Monday night. The show, featuring a score of salsa and 1950s doo-wop tunes by the legendary folk-pop performer, tells the story of Salvadar Agron--a notorious figure in the annals of New York City crime. As a member of the so-called Vampires Gang in the summer of 1959, the 16-year-old Agron--cloaked in a black-and-red cape--stabbed two teenagers to death in Hell's Kitchen.
A cousin of one of Agron's victims walked a mostly solitary protest line in front of the Marriott Marquis Theatre Monday. "Our Loss is $imon's Gain," read the sign carried by Kim Erker, who was a young child when Robert Young was knifed in the back by the "Capeman."
"My cousin's murder should not be entertainment," Erker told the Associated Press. "There's a million stories in New York City, why pick this one? You don't do a murder musical to jump start your career. Would Paul Simon do this if his son was murdered?"
Show producer Dan Klores maintained that the show--chronicling Argon's heinous deed, his 20 years in prison and eventual parole (he died in 1986)--does not make its main character out to be a hero. "It examines the human being's search for redemption," Klores said.
Outside the theater on Monday, Erker's protest, attended by three other relatives, was quiet and resulted in no disruptions of the scheduled performance. Inside the theater, Simon's first effort in the milieu of Andrew Lloyd Webber received a good early buzz--although some theatergoers reported being surprised by the graphic depiction of violence on stage. The musical officially opens January 8.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for the The Capeman production declined comment on the controversy. Erker and other family members also could not be reached. It's believed, though, that the protests have only just begun. The PR wars, for one, ignited last week, when an appearance by members of The Capeman at the star-crossed Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade drew criticism from victims' families.
If nothing else, the controversy is helping raise the profile of the show that, in spite of its name talent (including actor/singer Ruben Blades as the adult Agron, Marc Anthony as the young Capeman, Ednita Nazario as Agron's mom and a book cowritten by Simon and Nobel-winning poet Derek Walcott), is a slightly more complex concept to sell to the casual theatergoer and tourist than, say, The Lion King. ("What's a Capeman? Is it about...Superman? ...South Africa?")