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Frank Abagnale Jr. (Stephen Anthony) escapes his broken home in New Rochelle for an epic spree of check-kiting, forgery, short-changing and fraud, capped by faking his way as a co-pilot for Pan Am, a supervising doctor of an emergency room in Atlanta and a lawyer in New Orleans, earning and splurging millions while doggedly pursued by colorlessly obsessed FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David James). Cornered in an airport terminal, Abagnale narrates the musical rendition of his story, the captive capitalizing on his captive audience. He envisions it “in living color,” with the NBC peacock and period television test patterns projected behind his namesake studio orchestra in full-tilt “Ring-a-Ding” mode. What adolescent of the era did not imagined his life as a primetime special with himself at center, supplying his own soundtrack? And one must heave in relief that finally we can experience an Inspector Javert as a truly musical comedy character.
A lot of knowing (and loving) hands have pitched into this project: Composer Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) is a true musical magpie, and book writer Terrence McNally has adapted Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman and The Full Monty, while director Jack O’Brien is a theatrical legend of our time, not only for his Broadway work but for decades at San Diego’s Old Globe. The 2011 incarnation was nominated for a Tony as best musical, and won one for Norman Leo Butz as Agent Hanratty, but nevertheless managed less than 200 performances. This touring company mounting lacks any name players. Nevertheless, the ensemble is large and up to snuff, and the production value more than adequate to the concept, with a truly crack band that includes such ringers as John Fumo, Andy Martin, Dick Mitchell and Adam Schroeder.
The weak link is the show itself. In the superior first act, the songs may be irretrievably pastiche, with a good ear for mimicry of pop music of the early 1960s (including a fond reference to Mitch Miller), but they bounce agreeably, with flavorful lyrics, like cooking in a Teflon pan. Nothing sticks. The plentiful choreography satisfies with its efficient movement (and the attractive chorus girls and boys are quite effective), though little of it illuminates as opposed to illustrating the songs’ intent. At least it’s larky, if not quite cheeky, and carbonated if not effervescent.
After the intermission, Frank falls in love with good girl nurse Brenda (Aubrey Mae Davis), and the material goes soggy and literally South. He wants to go straight but cannot disentangle himself from his lies or cajole Hanratty from his manhunt. So the songs morph into more contemporary styled power ballads, predictably ornamental and banal, sung in the meretricious melismas of vocal stylings showcased on television singing competitions. The finale attempts to resurrect the sprightliness of the breezy cons but plays as arbitrarily as any deus ex machina, even if it may be factually accurate. Catch Me If You Can gets caught out doing club impressions of better musicals, from How to Succeed… to Shaiman and O’Brien’s own Hairspray.
Venue: Pantages Theatre (runs through Mar. 24)
Cast: Stephen Anthony, Merritt David James, Aubrey Mae Davis, Dominic Fortuna, Caitlin Maloney, Amy Burgmaier, D. Scott Withers, Travis Mitchell, Ben Laxton, Derrick Parks, Casey Renee Rogers, Allyson Tolbert, Colleen Hayes, Nadia Vynnytsky, Vanessa Dunleavy, Mary Claire King, Daniel J. Self
Director: Jack O’Brien (recreated by associate Matt Lenz)
Choreographer: Jerry Mitchell (recreated by associate Nick Kenkel)
Music composed and arranged by Marc Shaiman, orchestrations by Shaiman & Larry Blank
Lyrics by Scott Wittman & Shaiman
Book by Terrence McNally, based on the DreamWorks film (which itself was written by Jeff Nathanson and based on the memoir by Frank Abagnale Jr. with Stan Redding who here are all uncredited)
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Peter McBoyle
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