Catch Me If You Can

Melinda Schupmann Reviews - Theater

Catch Me If You Can, the musical about the scams perpetrated by Frank Abagnale, Jr. from the time he was 15 until he was caught at 21, is a colorful splash helmed by two charismatic co-stars, Jacob Haren as Frank and Jeff Skowron as Carl Hanratty, the detective who pursued and captured him. Both make the most of the material, which, while formulaic, is designed to entertain in grand style. The opening number, "Live In Living Color," sets the stage by Frank Jr. to witness his life as a glamorous show with a cast of many characters.

The true story about Abagnale, Jr. is recounted in the 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. It was directed by Steven Spielberg with a cast that also included Christopher Walken and Martin Sheen. As it was well received and had good word of mouth, it garnered theatrical attention and was turned into a musical in 2011 for Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre. It garnered four Tony nominations: Best Musical, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical, Best Sound Design, and Best Orchestrations. Norbert Leo Butz won the Tony and also earned a Drama Desk Award for his portrayal of Hanratty. The Desk also nominated the show for five additional awards.

Starting with some simple cons, partly to earn his father's admiration, Frank Jr. graduates to some impressive scams. He passes himself off as an airplane pilot for Pan Am, a supervisory doctor in an emergency room, an FBI agent, and finally a lawyer in New Orleans, where he finds love and begins to regret his choices.

The backstory taking place alongside Frank's imposter-driven career is that of his parents: Frank Senior (Michael Corbett) and Paula (Sandy Bainum). Glamorous to the youngster, we soon learn the darker side of their lives and the effect their unhappy parenting has on Frank's choices. Both handle their conflicted characterizations well, adding to the texture of the production.

The show deliberately takes on two faces: Broadway glitz and noir-like cynicism, particularly in Marc Shaiman's music and Scott Wittman and Shaiman's lyrics. Terrence McNally's book explores the duality of Frank's life of glamour and disillusion.  The dogged Hanratty, who never gives up the chase, has the more melancholy vocals, especially an evocative "The Man Inside the Clues." His persistence notwithstanding, he offers Frank Jr. a lifeline when he needs it the most.

Skowron is a superb character actor in high demand, and this show gives him a chance to show off his musical skills along with some fancy footwork. Haren makes a wonderful foil for the often dour and deliberately stiff Skowron as he provides youth and exuberant charm.

Also adding some human interest is nurse Brenda Strong (Katie Sapper), the girl Frank falls in love with as he works in the hospital.  Her parents, Roger and Carol (the delightful Doug Carfrae and Rebecca Spencer), provide an amusing cameo in "Our Family Tree," quite a departure from the Abagnales.

Also adding color and character to the production are Richard Bulda, Jonathan Sangster, and Jeffrey Scott Parsons as FBI agents, Jennifer Knox as a femme fatale, and a very large ensemble of talented singers and leggy dancers.

Director Larry Raben deftly manages the large cast. Notable is Dennis Castellano's assured musical direction, giving the show the full-on Broadway sound in the large Carpenter Center. Lighting by Paul Black, sound by Audio Production Geeks, LLC, and costumes by Tamara Becker add to the quality of the show. Large screen projections provide a great backdrop for the scenes, particularly ones which capture the moody moments in the show.

Program notes tell of the redemption of Frank, largely through the efforts of Hanratty who hires him as an agent after his incarceration. For over 30 years he acted as a consultant to prevent criminal behavior and more than paid his price for his youthful crimes. Steven Spielberg writes, "I didn't immortalize Frank Abagnale on film because of what he did 40 years ago as a teenager. I chose to immortalize him on film because of what he's done for his country for more than 30 years."

The show is part fun, part object lesson, and, given Musical Theatre West's treatment by director Raben,  an audience pleaser. It makes a nice addition to MTW's 66th season.