Charismatic conman Frank Abagnale, Jr. is up to his old tricks again, but this time he’s doing it “Live In Living Color” as the Segerstrom Center For The Arts presents the National Tour of Catch Me If You Can, the Broadway musical adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s popular 2002 biopic, and a wow of a show it is, filled with one catchy tune after another, plenty of pizzazzy production numbers, a castful of sensational performances, and a surprising dollop of heart.
Moviegoers will recall Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance as real-life con artist Frank Jr., who while still a teenager executed millions of dollars worth of cons by convincing folks he was (among other things) a PanAm pilot, an ER doctor, and a full-fledged attorney—and by forging checks to the tune of millions.
Tom Hanks was Di Caprio’s screen partner, costarring as FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty, whose Inspector Javert-like pursuit of Frank inspired Abagnale’s autobiography’s catchy title, as well as that of Spielberg’s movie and its 2011 Broadway adaptation, with songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Tony winners for Hairspray) and book by four-time Tony winner Terrence McNally.
McNally opens Catch Me The Musical with Frank’s capture at Miami International Airport, Frank (Stephen Anthony) promising Carl (Merritt David Janes) to confess all of his crimes on condition that the FBI agent allow him to tell his story “Live In Living Color,” in other words like one of those 1960s peacock-hued variety shows from the days when black-and-white was still the norm for much of America.
And before you can say “The following program is brought to you in living color on NBC,” the National Broadcasting Corporation’s peacock has spread its tail feathers across the entire upstage wall, the first of countless spectacular LED projections that make Catch Me If You Can a visual feast, with musical director Matthew Smedal and his 12-piece band onstage to back up the next two-and-a-half hours of musical theater magic.
We then flash back to Frank’s life as a New Rochelle teen living with his Italian-American dad Frank Sr. (Dominic Fortuna) and Parisian mom Paula (Caitlin Maloney) but dreaming of a life beyond suburban New York.
When his family’s financial woes rule out a return to private school, Frank Jr. wears his old uniform it to his new public high school, gets taken for a member of the faculty, and poses successfully as a substitute French teacher—for a few days at least.
Then, when his parents’ decision to divorce means choosing between Dad and Mom, Frank Jr. makes up his mind to hit the road and live in “Someone Else’s Skin.”
Before long, Frank has not only cashed fake check after fake check (to the tune of millions), he has faked himself a PanAm ID and is soon—believe it or not—co-piloting transatlantic flights and living life as a member of the fabled “Jet Set.”
With a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story as fascinating as Frank Jr.’s and a smash Spielberg movie which generated over $350 million at the box office, it’s no wonder that Broadway beckoned.
Unfortunately, despite a can’t-miss storyline, a terrific set of songs by Shaiman and Wittman, direction by three-time Tony winner Jack O’Brien, choreography by Jerry Mitchell (who just this month won his second Tony, for Kinky Boots), and a cast headed by Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz (who won the Tony for playing Carl), Catch Me If You Can lasted only just over 200 performances including previews.
Still, Catch Me If You Can scored three additional Tony nominations—for Best Musical, Best Sound Design, and Best Orchestrations—reason enough for Troika Entertainment to launch a multi-city non-Equity tour, now in its final stop at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center For The Arts. With Matt Lenz adeptly recreating O’Brien’s direction and Nick Kenkel recreating Mitchell’s choreography (and adding some snappy choreography of his own), Catch Me If You Can On Tour proves so thoroughly entertaining from start to finish that I can only wonder why Catch Me didn’t catch on on the Great White Way.
The creative team’s truth-as-TV-special conceit proves inspired. There’s hardly a song that doesn’t get its own production numbers, whether it’s Frank Jr. being backed up by a bevy of stunning stewardesses in “Jet Set” or by a chorus line of glamorous nurses in “Doctor’s Orders,” or Carl and back-up FBI agents male and female kicking up their heels to “Don’t Make The Rules.” This conceit also gives costume designer William Ivey Long permission to dress those stewardesses and nurses and female agents in leg-revealing uniforms that a more realistic staging would never allow. Even the showstopping Frank Sr./Frank Jr. duet “Butter Outta Cream” features leggy lovelies …
There’s even a love story between Frank Jr. and nurse Brenda Strong (Aubrey Mae Davis), one that proves surprisingly touching, giving us a chance to discover in Frank the soul of a romantic.
Of course, none of this would work nearly as well as it does without a pair of stellar lead performances, and if Anthony and Janes don’t yet have “name value,” they are both Broadway-bound, and sooner rather than later.
I’ve raved about Janes’ work as Lumiere in Beauty And The Beast and as Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical. The part of Carl now gives the triple-threat the chance to show off his leading man chops, and if the FBI agent leads a black-and-white life compared to Frank Jr.’s, Janes’ charismatic performance is one hundred percent “Live In Living Color” all the way through to the powerhouse “Strange But True” Carl-Frank Jr. duet that brings Catch Me If You Can to its cheer-inspiring finish.
As for 2012 Florida State University grad Anthony, his is easily the most exciting debut performance I’ve seen in a National Tour this past year, and one of the year’s all-round best … period. Boyish charm endears Anthony to audiences from his first entrance and makes us root for Frank Jr. from the get-go. As for Anthony’s power pipes, not only do they make each and every Shaiman-Wittman song he sings a showstopper, his eleventh-hour “Good-Bye” will have you wiping away tears as you cheer. And did I mention that the young man can dance up a storm?
Together, Janes and Anthony keep us rooting both for Carl to catch Frank and for Frank to keep escaping from Carl’s grasp, no mean trick that.
A dynamic Fortuna scores as Frank Abagnale, Sr., whose advice to make butter out of cream propels Frank Jr.’s journey. Davis gives Brenda just the right girl-next-door quality to make it clear why Frank Jr. picks her over her more statuesque fellow nurses, and belts “Fly, Fly Away“ all the way up to the back row of the highest balcony. Maloney gives Paula a sexy Gallic charm and duets “Don’t Be A Stranger” with Fortuna to delicious effect. Doing vivid work in multiple roles are Amy Burgmaier (as Brenda’s Southern mom Carol, as Frank Jr.’s high school principal, as a bank teller who turns to jelly under Frank Jr.’s charms, and as a Skyway Man Stewardess) and D. Scott Withers (as Brenda’s dad Roger, as a Pan Am Executive, and as Dr.Wanamaker, fooled by Frank into thinking he’s a fellow MD).
Ensemble members Esther M. Antoine, Amanda Braun, Taylor Collins, Vanessa Dunleavy, Michael Graceffa, Colleen Hayes, Greg Kamp, Mary Claire King, Ben Laxton (Agent Dollar), Travis Mitchell (Agent Branton), Derrick Parks (Agent Cod), Casey Renee Rogers (Cheryl Ann), Daniel J. Self, Allyson Tolbert (Doctor’s Orders), Nadia Vynnytsky are Broadway National Tour-caliber triple-threats each and every one, with special snaps to Tolbert’s vocalizing in “Doctor’s Orders,” and Laxton, Mitchell, and Parks’ trio of FBI agents. Swings Ashley Chasteen (Dance Captain) and Bradley Allan Zarr are on hand to step into any of the ensemble tracks at a moment’s notice.
L.A.’s very own Matthew Smedal serves as music director, leading the topflight onstage band, the biggest and best I’ve ever heard/seen in a non-Equity tour, making it clear why Shaiman and Larry Blank’s orchestrations got their own pair of Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations.
David Rockwell’s scenic design replicates the look of a ’60s TV variety hour quite niftily, though it’s Bob Bonniol’s video system and content design that takes us from one vivid scene-setting backdrop to another at the push of a button. Kenneth Posner’s lighting design is suitably flashy and Peter McBoyle’s sound design crisp and clear.
Sunday evening marks the final performance of Catch If You Can’s all-too-brief nine-month National Tour. This is one musical that’s simply too entertaining to miss. Catch It If You Can.
Segerstrom Center For The Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.
June 25, 2013
Photos: Carol Rosegg