“CATCH ME IF YOU CAN”

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“Catch Me If You Can”, loosely based on the Steven Spielberg-directed, Leonardo DiCaprio/Tom Hanks movie of 2002, has had so much singing and dancing added to it that you might think you’re watching something else entirely… and in a way, you are.
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In case you’ve forgotten, the plot revolves around young Frank Abagnale, Jr., a real-life check forger and con man who amassed a multi-million dollar fortune in the 1960s while posing as an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer… all before reaching the age of nineteen. We watch him fast-talk his way into one job after another (he is such a skillful liar, he amazes even himself) then stand by helplessly as his parents divorce, his unfaithful mother remarries, and his father (a hard-drinking, down-on-his-luck storeowner) dies.  Eventually, he even falls in love with a pretty young nurse, a relationship that proves to be his undoing as she unwittingly leads federal investigators right to his doorstep.  (No spoiler alert needed here; his arrest and imprisonment are a matter of record, and the play even begins with his capture in — appropriately enough — a busy airport.)
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The performances are fine: not only does Aaron Tveit bring just the right amount of bright-eyed, fresh-faced innocence to the role of Frank Jr., but he looks young enough to play the part, too; Norbert Leo Butz, though reined in most of the time by his rumpled, bedraggled, Columbo persona, enjoys a couple of the antic, fun-loving moments that we’ve come to expect of him; and Kerry Butler as Frank Jr.’s hoodwinked girlfriend and Rachel de Benedet as his two-timing mother more than hold their own.
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It is Tom Wopat, however, who shines the brightest. As Frank Sr. — the young man’s toothsome, win-at-all-costs Dad — he displays, first, a Rat Pack cool that is a delight to see, and then an inebriated, hangdog weariness that tugs at the heartstrings.  One minute, it seems, he is dapper, confident, on top of the world; the next, he is at the bottom of the proverbial barrel.  He was the only character in the show I truly felt something for; the only one I wanted to see overcome his woes and survive.  (And, lest I forget, the man can — in that great voice of his — still sing.)
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And that, I think, is the show’s central problem: I found myself rooting for Wopat because it was so hard to root for the leads.  Are we expected to cheer for Frank Jr., despite his lack of ethics and oily charm? (He lies to people and steals their money, after all.)  Or are we supposed to empathize with Butz’s sad-sack FBI agent, Carl Hanratty, who pursues his prey like a bloodhound but is, ultimately, as one-dimensional and poorly defined as Frank Jr. is?
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Which leads to another question: why fashion a show around such a creaky old-headline-grabber to begin with? There’s little to laugh at here, little that’s truly funny — in some scenes, the story comes off more as musical drama than musical comedy — and even the choreography and show-within-a-show structure (Frank Jr. and Hanratty obliterate the fourth wall repeatedly, telling the story, directly to the audience, via flashback) seem a little forced.  Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s music and lyrics are fine if unmemorable (and a far cry, sad to say, from the vastly superior work they did on “Hairspray”), Terrence McNally’s book is serviceable but nothing more, the sets and costumes by David Rockwell and William Ivey Long, respectively, are colorful but borderline tacky, and Jack O’Brien’s direction keeps the action moving swiftly, but hardly creates excitement.
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“Catch Me If You Can” is an ambitious musical with a difficult, possibly even unstageable subject.  If they had done it differently, maybe it would have turned out to be a show to remember — rather than one I am just as likely to forget.
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THEATRE REVIEW by Stuart R. Brynien