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Paul Simon: Exploring bridges over troubled water

A fifties' gang-related murder and its aftermath had just the right edge to lure singer/songwriter Paul Simon to Broadway with his first musical, The Capeman
by Patrick Pacheco

In 1990 Paul Simon chose to shoot a part of his music video for "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" in a small playground on West 46th Street in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen - a place with a dark history in contrast to the jaunty rhythms of the seventies pop hit for which it was serving as a backdrop. But its composer had already begun thinking of creating a Broadway pop opera about tragic events that had occurred there on a steamy August night in 1959. For in that place two teen-agers had been fatally stabbed by Salvador Agron later nicknamed "The Caperman," who mistook them for members of a rival gang. At age 16, the Puerto-Rican-born youth became the youngest person ever sentenced to New York's electric chair- a sentence later commuted at the behest of petitioners who included Eleanor Roosevelt. 

The subject matter may seem unusual as the basis for a Broadway musical. But The Capeman , an $11 million musical about those tragic events, opens this month at the Marquis Theatre. And it marks not only the theatrical debut of one of the most acclaimed and successful of American pop artists but also boasts an impressive roster of collaborative talents: director-choreographer Mark Morris; Nobel Prize-winning author Derek Walcott ( who co-wrote the book and lyrics with Simon); set designer Robert Crowley ( Carousel); and stars Ruben Blades, Marc Anthony and Ednita Nazrio, all well known salsa music stars.
[[photo of Paul Simon (in cap) with Capeman stars (l.-r.) Ruben Blades, Ednita Mazario and Marc Anthony]]

"People say, 'Isn't this kind of down?' " says Simon, taking a break from rehearsals of the show and looking younger than his 54 years dressed in a lime-green jacket and blue baseball cap. "And I don't know how to answer that. Do you mean, 'Is this escapist?' No. Does it mean you might cry and be moved? Yeah, maybe. But will you be bored? No." 
Although Simon is part of a trend of pop songwriters trying their hand at the Broadway musical format- Pete Townshend ( The Who's Tommy), Randy Newman ( Faust), Elton John ( The Lion King), Jimmy Buffett ( Don't stop the Carnival)- he insists that the move to musical theatre didn't come as the result of any desire for what he calls "a career change." In fact, growing up in Queens as the son of a bandleader, he had no particular predilection for Broadway musicals. 

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