NEW YORK — Paul Simon’s “The Capeman,” a musical about a gang-related murder in 1959, seems caught in the crossfire of the rumble between New York City’s tabloids.

Following the publication of an at-best premature story and headline in Monday’s Post about picketing at the new Paul Simon musical, a victims’ rights group decided to reverse its previous decision, follow the Post’s suggestion and protest.

What the group, called Parents of Murdered Children, might not know is that it’s caught up in a tabloid press war: “Capeman” producer Dan Klores is a prominent New York publicist who counts among his clients the Post’s arch rival, the New York Daily News.

In a story written by Post theater reporter Ward Morehouse III, the paper reported that the victims’ rights group, along with survivors of the two boys killed in 1959 by “Capeman” Salvador Agron, planned to protest the Simon musical’s first preview Monday at Broadway’s Marquis Theater.

But Kim Erker, a spokeswoman for the survivors and cousin of the real Capeman’s victim, Michael Young, said she told the Post last weekend that no protest was planned. As late as midday Monday, Erker told Daily Variety that she wanted to wait and see the musical before taking action.

Publicity jolt

By Monday afternoon, however, any such patience was abandoned. Christine Baumgardt, a spokeswoman for the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children, said she had been informed by the group’s national headquarters in Cincinnati that because of the publicity generated by the Post story, the group would indeed picket the performance Monday night.

Baumgardt subsequently called Erker and enlisted her support.

The article came five days after a Post report criticized the inclusion of “Capeman” in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Although Broadway musicals are a staple of the parade, the float was canceled. Klores said he pulled the float because star Mark Anthony was exhausted from rehearsals, but Baumgardt said she was told by Macy’s execs that the department store canned the float due to the group’s “outcry.” A Macy’s spokesman did not return calls by press time.

The float, as mentioned in the final sentence of the Post’s parade story, was to have been sponsored by the New York Daily News.

Flat denial

The Post’s most recent “Capeman” story said demonstrators were “vowing to show up in force” at the musical’s first preview. But on Monday morning, Erker, who was 3 years old when her 16-year-old cousin was fatally stabbed by Agron, flatly denied making any such claims when she spoke to Morehouse last weekend.

Morehouse told Daily Variety he was assured by the victims’ rights group last weekend that a protest was planned. He denied that rivalry with the Daily News played any part in the “Capeman” coverage.

Morehouse’s story appeared under the headline “Victims’ kin to protest ‘Capeman.’ ” “I told him there would be no protest until after we see the play,” said Erker. Although she is outspoken in her criticism of murder as musical fodder, she told Daily Variety that protesting was premature.

“I would like to see the show,” she said, “and then be able to walk out and say either that I was right or that Mr. Simon did not do what I expected.” Erker said that the local chapter of Parents of Murdered Children would follow the family’s lead.

But in the wake of the Post story, the victims’ group decided to take the lead. Baumgardt said she was contacted by the Cincinnati office Monday morning and instructed to picket that evening. She estimated that eight people would show up for a “quiet” protest of the show.

Baumgardt, whose husband was murdered in 1994, said her group believes “murder is not entertainment.”

Klores said he was assured by the group’s Cincinnati office Friday (three days prior to the Post story) that no picketing was planned.

The $11 million musical, directed and choreographed by Mark Morris, with music by Simon and lyrics by Simon and Derek Walcott, is the story of Agron, who at 16 was the youngest person ever sentenced to death in New York. The sentence later was commuted, and Agron, a member of a Puerto Rican street gang in 1959 when he killed two white boys at a Hell’s Kitchen playground, was released from prison in 1979. He died in 1986. The score includes at least one song, “Can I Forgive Him,” told from the point of view of the victims’ families.

Advance ticket sales and group reservations for “Capeman” total $5 million, according to a production spokesman. The musical began previews Dec. 1 and officially opens Jan. 8.

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