The story of the young con man, Frank Abagnale Jr. was brought to screen by Steven Speilberg back in 2002 in Catch Me If You Can, starring Leonardo De Caprio as Frank and Tom Hanks as the FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, a cat-and-mouse story, based on the true life antics of Abagnale Jr. based on his 1980 biography of the same name. The film was slick and fun, receiving middle-of-the-road reviews and a couple of award nominations. The story was work shopped in New York from 2005-2008, reworked and previewed in Seattle in 2009 and made it to Broadway for a brief stay on the Great White Way in 2011. Even with mixed reviews, the show received four Tony nominations, and earned lead actor Norbot Leo Butz the trophy for Best Actor in a Musical.
The musical hit the road in 2012, making its final stop at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in June. With a libretto penned by Terrance McNally (Ragtime) and music by Marc Shaiman (Hairspray) and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, choreography by Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots) and directed by Jack O’Brien, one would think Catch Me had a strong foundation for success. However, it was a bit of an over-the-top, ridiculous ride for me, and I have a pretty strong stomach.
Stephen Anthony, who plays Abagnale Jr. has the youthful appearance needed for the teenage con man, and the swagger needed to accompany the overdone ensemble numbers, featuring a bevy of long legged, naughty nurses, flirty flight attendants and stripper-esque Southern belles - and that is just the female side of the ensemble; there is also a group of guys accompanying them. Let’s just say, this show is ensemble heavy, and the story is built around Mitchell’s dance numbers to the point that you might need some Dramamine.
The shining moments of the show feature Abrey Mae Davis, who plays Abagnale Jr.’s love interest, Brenda. She has a lovely voice, and if you can ignore the unnecessary Southern belle chorus gals behind her, she delivers “Fly Fly Away” beautifully. When the show circles back to tie up the story, Anthony gives a strong 11 o’clock belting number in “Goodbye” and shows us he has some great tenor pipes.
Other positives are the onstage orchestra, set up in bandstand style with a clever configuration, featuring the drum kit under the jazzy scenic platform. This is the main feature of the set, which is accompanied by some clever video elements; couple this with the ensemble eye candy, Catch Me is quite a spectacle.
I don’t want to sound too negative, as the show is a fun little romp, based on an intriguing story, but overall, most of the time I felt like I was at Radio City Music Hall for The Rockettes rather than a Broadway show. As well, with the exception of a couple of songs, the music was quite unremarkable, which is a disappointing follow-up for Shaiman’s Hairspray - no iTunes download for me on this one. The music offered too much of a repetitive plot to the book, and I guess I prefer my musical theater to dig a little deeper than “speak it, then sing and dance it.”
Segerstrom Center again brought in some fun interactive elements and games to enhance your experience at the show, so arrive early if you want to participate in the passport challenge and sip a couple signature cocktails. You might even spot some flight attendants in the audience, as we did in the foyer - some old guard from the Pan Am days were in attendance, which was a fun sighting.
On a final note, I offer another perspective from my guest for the evening... he had not seen the film and knew very little of Abagnale’s true-life con man activities. He loved the story and he liked the girls; he is, however, only 15, so my recommendation to those who plan to see Catch Me If You Can is to embrace your inner teenager and enjoy the ride.