Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review of "Catch Me If You Can"

I have to give credit to the creative team for their concept of the new, problematic musical, Catch Me If You Can, based on the true life story of young con-artist, Frank Abagnale, Jr., familiar to many from the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie of the same name. Combining a 1960’s television variety show format with a straight ahead narrative structure, Catch Me If You Can starts off with promise and pizzazz. The musical opens at the end of the story with flimflammer Abagnale, played with vitality and nervous energy by Aaron Tveit, surrounded by F.B.I. agents in an airport passenger lounge. As they begin to close in Abagnale’s gilded tongue attempts, once again, to talk his way out of a no-win situation. Stepping out of character, he implores F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty, a baffled and bewildered Norbet Leo Butz, to listen to his story. Before the agent has a chance to reply, the waiting area slowly transforms into a variety show setting, complete with Hullabaloo styled dancers and an onstage orchestra clad in white dinner jackets. In the energetic production number that follows, “Live in Living Color,” a bouncy, tuneful and exhilarating way to start the show, the young schemer begins to unfold his tale.

Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets as Catch Me If You Can’s narrative structure, ricocheting between the dream-like, showbiz razmataz world envisioned by Frank, Jr. and the traditional musical, story telling structure fail to mesh into a cohesive whole. The book, as written by Terrence McNally, requires too much exposition to the audience by Tveit’s Abagnale. Breaking the fourth wall is fine, but when the device becomes overused the flow of the production stalls. Being, essentially, a chase around the globe to apprehend the conman, there is a lot of running here and there which unnecessarily handcuffs Norbet Leo Butz as the tired, frazzled F.B.I. agent in charge of the case. Only during the song, “Don’t Break the Rules,” is the actor afforded the opportunity to break free from the exasperated Hanratty role and really demonstrate his musical comedy chops.

Looking to focus less on the pursuit, the relationship between Frank, Jr. and Frank, Sr. is heightened in order to humanize the characters and give the audience an emotional core. However, the interplay between Tveit’s Frank, Jr. and Tom Wopat’s Frank, Sr. lacks a passionate resonance, which flattens their encounters. Wopat is too aloof and reserved. Emotions are not his character’s strong point and the results produce disconnected interactions between father and son that doesn’t envelope the audience and its sympathies. Kerry Butler, as Frank Abagnale’s fiancĂ©, Brenda Strong, finds herself in a role that underutilizes her well-honed skills as a musical theater actress. Her one shining moment, the power ballad, “Fly, Fly, Away,” near the end of the production seems more like an afterthought.

Aaron Tveit, pinging across the stage masquerading as an airline pilot, a doctor and lawyer, has the good looks, powerhouse voice and dancing agility to make him a star. Regrettably, Catch Me If You Can is not the vehicle. Personally, I think he would be a boffo J. Pierpont Finch in the revival of How to Succeed in Business, playing just a few blocks south.

The songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the composer and lyricist behind the hit, Hairspray, is such a disappointment. Instead of tuneful melodies that might emulate the go-go 60’s, we are supplied with a serviceable score that functions more to move the plot along then entertain and celebrate the wild ride we expected from the show’s onset.

Director Jack O’Brien cannot seem to remedy the inherent problem with the musical’s structure, which bounces from carefree bantering to emotive, soul-searching scenes. The result is more a hodgepodge then a unified vision.

Jerry Mitchell's choreography has two rousing and spirited numbers, mentioned above, but the remainder of the musical's dances becomes more perfunctory as the show progresses.

Sporadically entertaining, Catch Me If You Can, more low cost carrier then jet airliner.

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