"Catch Me If You Can" at the Neil Simon Theatre, March 21, 2011
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have mined Hollywood to create another excellent stage musical adaptation from the 2002 film of the same name. This time around, wisely, they've taken a bit more of a conceptual approach to tell the story of con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Aaron Tveit), who scams his way around the globe amassing and burning through lots and lots of money that's not his. Working as a memory play, it starts as Frank gets caught by Carl Hanratty (Norbert Leo Butz), the federal agent who has been chasing him for years. Frank, eager to finally tell his story, turns it into a television musical special along the line of Jackie Gleason's in the 50's or Dean Martin's series in the '60s, complete with a full cast of chorus girls, the Frank Abagnale, Jr. dancers. With a tight book by Terrence McNally, Frank starts his tale as a teenager, learning from his father, Frank, Sr. (Tom Wopat), that image is everything. Honesty, financial responsibility - - not so much.
Fresh out of high school, Frank leaves home with barely the clothes on his back as his parents split and learns quickly how to profit from bad checks, kiting his way through Manhattan before every bank in the city is looking for him. He heads west for "greener" pastures and bluffs his way into the cockpit of an airline, flying around the world, and bedding innumerable stewardesses along the way. Life is good until the FBI starts after him. He lands in New Orleans, impersonating a pediatrician in a hospital ER. Love turns out to be his undoing, meeting nurse April Strong (Kerry Butler). Agent Hanratty is close on his heels and Frank finally comes clean with April and convinces her to meet him at the airport to make their escape. April turns him in and we're back to the opening tableau.
Mr. Tveit makes an impressive turn in his first billing above the title, capturing Frank's charm. Mr. Butz' Hanratty is a song and dance man in the style of Jimmy Cagney, ornery and crusty with a heart. Mr. Wopat is capable, if unremarkable. Rachel DeBenedet as Frank's mother, Paula, is straight out of central casting: tall, blonde and elegant. Ms. Butler doesn't have so much to do, not appearing until Act II, but she does what she does best with "Fly, Fly Away."
Director Jack O'Brien's staging keeps the energy high enough to pull through some of the weaker numbers, for example, "My Favorite Time of Year," which closes Act I. Jerry Mitchell's choreography is some of the best work I've seen from him in a long time, spot on to the period. Mr. Shaiman's music is full of hummable melodies, but the lyrics tend to border on Hallmark.
Catch Me If You Can may not be the absolute front-runner for this year's Tony, but it will certainly be a well-deserved member of the pack.