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A CurtainUp Review
Catch Me If You Can
By Elyse Sommer
DiCaprio is not only too old to convincingly play a teenager but is not a singer. On the other hand, Aaron Tveit at twenty-eight has the required youthful looks and can sing up a storm (He originated the role of Gabe in Next to Normal and was one of the numerous replacements for hearthrob teenager Link Larson in Hairspray).
I don't know if the real Frank Abagnale was consulted about the casting for this musical version of his story (He actually played a small role in the Spielberg film and originally felt DiCaprio wasn't suave enough to portray him on screen), but I doubt that he'd find Aaron Tveit's boy-next-door brand of charm especially suave. Still, as DiCaprio's Frank Jr. won over audiences as well as the man he portrayed, so Tveit has what it takes: vibrant energy and the voice to deliver a song even when the song's introduction is more forced than natural.
That said, though Tveit's young Frank manages to get himself airborne with his appealing smile and voice, it's Norbert Leo Butz as Carl Hanratty, the pursuer who's obsessed with catching and ultimately saving Frank Jr., who comes closest to making this show gain altitude. His idiosyncratic interpretation of Agent Harnratty, including the awkward gait and lumpy physique of a desk-bound grind, is funny and poignant. He has that indefinable something that draws an audience in. While Hanratty and his FBI colleagues are on scene throughout, it's only when he tells Frank Jr. that this is his part and segues into a hilarious film noir bit, that we get to the best part of this overly busy, over-miked show.
But a first act that's more frantic than fabulous and emotionally engaging, is not enough for Catch Me As You Can to be another Hairspray for Shaiman and Wittman — even with that Tony-winning hit's director and design team on board, and Terrence McNally to supply a book to make the Abagnale story more musical theater friendly Not this season of musical choices galore: The Book of Mormon, a completely new concept, has already established itself as Broadway's top crowd pleaser and front runner in the awards sweepstakes. The revival of Anything Goes has re-introduced people to the pleasures of truly memorable show tunes, and How to Succeed in Business, is not too dated to be a ticket selling magnet for Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe fans.
Given that this was never the easiest story to dramatize, as borne out by the less than across the board raves for the Catch Me As You Can movie, McNally's concept of telling Frank's story narration style within the framework of a Television musical variety show instead of the quiz type show used in the movie makes sense. It allowed director Jack O'Brien to put the orchestra upstage, shades of the popular Encores! concerts, and for scenic and lighting designers David Rockwell and Kenneth Posner to have that orchestra as a front for the musical numbers by the ensemble (dressed by another Hairspray veteran, William Ivy Long), or as a sort of mini-Ziegfeld entryway to the main playing area. However, the show-within-a-show concept has a way of coming and going and feeling wedged in, and the use of trapdoors at the front of the stage for exits is neither surprising or magical .
It's not that the first act doesn't have plenty of well sung pop-rock and jazz flavored tunes to fit the characters and period, and with apt story advancing lyrics. There's Frank Jr's opening "Live in Living Color" and the "Butter Outa Cream" duet with his father (a solid performance by Tom Wopat) that sums up the ill-advised philosophy that steered young Frank into his life of deception. The problem is that nothing really sparkles in a big way except Hanratty's "Don't Break the Rules." That includes the choreography by Jerry Mitchell (yes, he also choreographed Hairspray), which is certainly vigorous, but too derivative and repetitious.
If a show has to be only partially satisfying, I suppose it's better to leave the audience with the strongest act freshest in their minds. Besides finally getting at the emotion grabbing aspects of the story, Catch Me If You Can's second act gives Rachel de Benedet who plays Frank's French mother a lovely and subtly orchestrated duet with Wopat, "Don't Be a Stranger." It's in the second acto too that the underused Kerry Butler (Hairspray's terrific Penny) has a show-stopping solo, "Fly, Fly Away." However, even that would be better with less excessive amplification like some of that second half's earlier numbers).
In the end, Butz and Tveit give this incredible true story the emotional weight to make this more than a feel-good musical but the story of the bond forged by a young man's misguided filial devotion and the modern day Inspector Jarvert whose catch him obsession turns into a life-saving, fatherly mission. Too bad so much of this catch-me is too kitschy to have as long a Broadway run as Frank Abagnale's four year caper.