The non-equity national tour of the Broadway musical “Catch Me If You Can,” now at Hartford’s Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through Sunday, June 2, recreates both the high points and disappointments of the original. This is definitely a polished and professional production that entertains in spots, while unfortunately feeling like it is running in place in others.
The musical is based on the true life adventures of a venturesome young man named Frank Abagnale, Jr., who in his late teens in the 1960’s developed a successful check forging system that netted him at least a million plus dollars. When the FBI got on his trail, he simply reinvented himself, first as a high-living airline pilot, then as an emergency room doctor and finally as a lawyer. The musical parallels Frank’s story with that of the chief FBI agent on the case, the dedicated, relentless Carl Hanratty, who eventually develops a father-son type of respect for his wayward suspect.
Based on the motion picture of the same name that starred Tom Hanks as Hanratty and Leonardo diCaprio as Frank, Jr., the musical features a book by multiple Tony Award winning playwright Terence McNally and a score by Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics), who were responsible for much of the music on the television series “Smash” over the past two years.
The tour fortunately replicates David Rockwell’s set and William Ivey Long’s costume design, which captures the look and feel of the mid-1960’s, helping to, along with the score, set the piece firmly in the era of the sexual revolution and the new discoveries of the swingin’ 60’s. One of the most iconic images from the time period was that of the sexy stewardess and the high-flyin’ handsome pilot and director Jack O’Brien’s staging keeps that vision front and center for most of the first act.
Stephen Anthony conveys the easy enthusiasm and confidence of young Frank as he discovers his ability to become one of the foremost con men of mid-20th century, while also capturing the young man’s genuine charm, which not only helps him maneuver out of the number of tight spots, but also earns him a place in the audiences’ hearts as well. Merritt Davis Janes provides a human aspect to Agent Hanratty’s single-minded persistence, while evoking the rumpled, exhausted look of our nation’s most dedicated crime fighters. Janes allows us to see Hanratty’s cynicism honed from this veteran’s many years in the field, while providing a glimpse into the man’s growing concern for the lonely young man who reaches out to him one Christmas Eve.
The other major character is Dominic Fortuna’s Frank Abagnale, Sr., the alcoholic, consistently defeated con man who Frank, Jr., admires and wants to save. Fortuna not only presents the character’s delusions and denial effectively, he also possesses a marvelously strong singing voice with a wide range that seems to effortlessly reach even the deepest registers.
Matt Lenz has recreated O’Brien’s direction and Nick Kenkel has recreated Jerry Mitchell’s original choreography as well as provided some additional movement of his own. Indeed, Mitchell’s dances are among the highlights of the show, with an appealing number as Frank, Jr., promenades with a kick line of pilots and stewardii, although the number in which Frank arrives at a swinging apartment complex populated by young medical professionals, “Doctor’s Orders,” comes off as a tad embarrassing. Equally unfortunate is a number in which Frank’s mother Paula, Caitlin Maloney, waltzes through an FBI interrogation on the arms of some tuxedo-clad suitors in recognition of her new upper-crust life following her divorce from Frank, Sr.
Shaiman’s and Wittman’s score is pleasant if not memorable, with Hanratty’s anthem to his commitment to the case, “The Man Inside the Clues,” serving as a distinctive repeated motif. His “Don’t Break the Rules” is a raucous outline of his crime-fighting philosophy, performed with a dancing chorus of fellow overweight G-men, with Janes giving his athletic best to communicate Hanratty’s focused vision.
The evening introduces a love interest for Frank in the second act, a sweetly innocent and competent nurse named Brenda played by Aubrey Mae Davis. They journey together to meet her parents in Louisiana, where they and an-out of-nowhere family chorus perform an irrelevant production number about “(Our) Family Tree” which calls to mind some of the more traditional numbers in any number of 50’s and 60’s musicals.
That’s actually in line with the overall conceit of the show, which sets itself up initially, at least our young hero’s mind as “The Frank Abagnale, Jr., Show,” a take off on popular sixties’ variety shows, providing the excuse for the show and the characters to break into song and dance. The television show concept was more pronounced in the Broadway version, and seems to be relegated to being merely a bookending device here, which by being less intrusive works to the touring production’s advantage.
McNally’s book sticks pretty much to the story line of the motion picture. There’s some question as to how is he going to end the first act on a climactic note that will leave the audience hungry for the second, but the Tony Award winning playwright has come up with a convincing way. He also finds a good way to ultimately resolve Frank’s situation, so that the appealing Frank does end up paying society back for his crimes, while at the same time setting up the happy ending.
For as those who have read about Frank Abagnale, Jr., over the years, or seen him on television, yes, there is a positive outcome. Abagnale has become one of the foremost experts on bank fraud, embezzlement, document and identity theft as the owner of a private security firm that frequently consults with the FBI, while enjoying a long, successful marriage that has produced three sons. And even in real life, Abagnale still credits his relationship with Joe Shea, one of the agents on whom the Carl Hanratty is based, as helping to turn his life around.
While “Catch Me If You Can” is not a great show, it’s an enjoyable one that offers an easy, pleasant diversion on a warm summer evening.
Performances continue through Sunday, June 2 at 1 and 6:30 p.m., with two performances on Saturday, June 1, and one on Friday evening, May 31. For information and to order tickets, contact the Bushnell box office at 860.987.5800 or visit the Bushnell website at www.bushnell.org.