CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
By Gary Murray
Starring Stephen Anthony, Merritt David Janes and Aubrey Mae Davis
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Whittman and Mark Shaiman
Based on the film by Steven Spielberg
Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Broadway has always used whatever was in popular culture and turned it into a musical experience. We’ve seen everything from comic books and works of fiction turned into something for the stage. Lately these have either been jukebox musicals or animated films. Mama Mia, Jersey Boys, Shrek—the Musical and just about everything Disney has in the vault have been a recent part of Broadway.
Now, we are also getting films that have been turned into something more. Sister Act, The Wedding Singer and High School Musical were all films before they were plays. The latest one to grace the Fair Park Musical Hall as a part of the Dallas Summer Musical season is Catch Me if You Can.
The true story is based on the Steven Spielberg film of the same name. Set in the 1960s the tale begins at the end where Frank Abagnale Jr, (Stephen Anthony) is being arrested in the Miami airport. As he pleads with Agent Hanratty (Merritt David Janes) Frank turns to the audience and wants to tell his story ‘Live in Living Color’.
The front of the stage pulls back to show the large band on stage with the drummer tucked under the bleachers. This simple set-up is more reminiscent of the staging of Chicago. A large cast of dancer/singers perform with Frank Sr. and Jr. and give the audience the dynamic of their relationship. The ensemble almost becomes a Greek-style chorus, but with more dance steps and high kicks.
The idea of a con is planted very young with the teen boy. Very soon, Frank is on his own and scamming. This high school drop out just can not stop lying. This eventually leads him on a giant check forging scheme.
On the other side of the story is Hanratty and his almost Keystone Cop men of the FBI. In what is one of the biggest number of the entire work they perform “Don’t Break the Rules” a big-stepping number of dancing agents. Agent Hanratty is convinced that his human prey is a very sophisticated seasoned criminal mind. As the FBI get closer, Frank changes his tactics and becomes a Pam Am co-pilot.
Easily the biggest moment of Act I is ‘Butter Outta Cream” a father and son duet. Not only do Stephen Anthony and Dominic Fortuna blend together with smoothing voices, they seem to be enjoying the old-school style of the number that harks to the best of Broadway. The song feels like it could be a modern standard.
The second Act is of Frank realizing that he is tired of running and wanting to settle down with Brenda, a nurse and the love of his life. He has gone from faking checks to faking being a doctor and eventually faking a lawyer. Frank’s growing up makes him realize the folly of his ways. Besides, a good woman can change a bad man. Since we know at the beginning Frank is arrested, the ending comes as no surprise.
Stephen Anthony has that likeable everyman quality that the role of Frank needs. Frank has to be the kind of guy that everyone just wants to befriend and Stephen gives it that turn. His voice is pleasant and strong. The role requires him to be on the stage for almost the entire work, an exhausting experience. He handles it with an elegant grace.
Aubrey Mae Davis gets a moment to deliver a knock-out punch of acting and singing with the number “Fly, Fly Away” in Act II. She shows a strong vocal range while pulling tears from the audience. Her moment of young heartbreak is almost worth the price of admission. This is a strong performer who should generate some major notice from this small role.
There are some problems with Catch. The costumes that the female chorus members of the cast wear are very unflattering. The women of the cast are of various body types and the garb is less than appealing on some of the dancers. The other problem is the lack of humor in the book. The 1960s is ripe for parody and the writers of the book miss opportunity after opportunity to deliver some knock-out punches of comedy. The entire work with intermission runs almost a solid three hours, a bit too long even for theater. A few snips here and there could pick-up the pace and keep the flow better.
Catch Me if You Can is a nice night out at the theater but not a breathtaking production. It would help to be re-imagined with more laughs and a shorter length. This true tale is interesting but interesting does not always make a great musical experience.