Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Theater Review: Catch Me if You Can -- The Bushnell

The Catch Me if You Can Tour Company, Photo By Carol Rosegg
Larger-Than-Life Story Gets Over-the-Top Treatment
By Lauren Yarger
The true story of a teenager who plays a game of Catch Me if You Can with the FBI is already larger than life, but this musical, making a tour stop at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford, takes it way over the top by adding full-scale musical numbers, kick-line choreography and glitzy costumes.

Maybe the show's creative team sensed something nipping at its own heels: the need to be even more sensational than the popular autobiography by Frank Abagnale, Jr. and the film based on it starring Leonardo Di Caprio as the young white-collar criminal who eluded the FBI for years back in the 1960s while he forged checks and documents in the course of impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer.

The stage adaptation (with a book by Terrence McNally) is told as though it were a TV special complete with a band on stage (Music Direction by Matthew Smedal), video projections (designed by Bob Bonniol) and some spectacular lighting effects designed by Kenneth Posner. David Rockwell designs the set.

Frank (Stephen Anthony) looks up to his father, Frank Abagnale, Sr. (Dominic Fortuna), a successful New Rochelle businessman who used his charms to win the affections, among many suitors, of his beautiful war bride, Paula (Caitlin Maloney). When his father’s charms start to fade and he is under investigation by the IRS, Paula seeks comfort elsewhere and teenager Frank leaves to make his fortune in New York City and to do what he can to get his father back on his feet and reunited with his mother.

He quickly discovers a talent for fraud and starts writing doctored checks. He perfects the art along with document forgery and starts cashing checks under different names (a chorus line of girls dressed as a Swiss army knife, a bottle of ink and a container of glue are deemed necessary to help tell this part of the story by Director Jack O’Brien and Choreographer Jerry Mitchell). 

His scheme attracts the attention of the FBI, especially Agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes), who figures out Frank’s pattern and starts to close in. Frank throws him off the trail by assuming the identity of a Pan Am pilot. Not only does he manage to get a lot of stewardesses (costumer William Ivey Long dresses them in revealing, very short uniforms while Frank sports a glittering version of a pilot’s jacket), but he also flies free. He hops a plane to visit his father, who has been reduced to hanging out in bars since his wife has taken up with his best friend, but he refuses help from his son.

As the game of “Catch Me if You Can” intensifies, Frank changes identities and becomes an emergency room doctor (complete with a chorus line of miniskirt-clad nurses) where he meets the girl of his dreams: Brenda Strong (Aubrey Mae Davis), a young nurse who also ran away from her past. Frank convinces her to return to New Orleans and reconcile with her parents (D. Scott Withers and Amy Burgmaier). Frank wants a life with Brenda, so he declares that he also is a lawyer and accepts Strong’s invitation to join the family firm.

His engagement announcement gives Carl the clue he needs to pick up the trail of the young con artist with whom he has developed a relationship through the years, particularly through phone calls at Christmas when the two lonely men touch base. Without giving too much away (and you probably have seen the movie any way….) the real Frank Abagnale, Jr. today is one of the FBI’s leading authorities on secure documents, fraud and embezzlement. 

This show is a musical that should be a play. The story is interesting enough on its own to carry a production. If we really need music, Marc Shaiman’s score, mostly forgettable, large production numbers, fits McNally’s book, but the concept is all wrong. There’s an ensemble of more than 30 people up there to tell what really is the story of two men. Hanratty’s part gets lost in the hoopla and so does the developing relationship between him and Frank, who suddenly starts to see the honest government agent as a better person to worship than his con artist father. At two hours and 45 minutes the show could easily stand some trimming.

In this tour, the vocals are adequate, with stand-out Anthony lending the strong tenor and stage presence needed to pull off his lead role with style (until Matt Lenz, who recreated O’Brien’s original direction, has him sobbing quite excessively in one scene and gives new comic meaning to the lyrics “Stop your sobbing kid before I shoot. Your nose is running on my only suit.”

Mitchell’s original choreography, added to and recreated here by Nick Kenkel, is in need of some serious rehearsal, too. The ensemble isn’t together on execution or in syncing their moves.

Catch it while you can, through June 2 at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances: Wednesday through Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6 pm. Tickets $20-$65: (860) 987-5900;

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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