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Theater Review: Catch Me If You Can

Photo 1In Catch Me If You Can, audiences get a glimpse into the life of Frank Abagnale Jr, the charming and youthful swindler who we could call a Playboy, if he were only old enough to vote. At an early age, Frank is let down by his perfectly-idealist family life and decides to break out on his own to make his place in the World. In order to get by and make ends meet, young Abagnale learns that lying under pressure is something he excels in and begins to take up the habit habitually.  First its fake checks, then co-piloting Pan Am flights and later, a medical doctor and lawyer. Frank Jr. manages to become a smooth-talking crook who’s able to slip-away from every bind he gets himself into, until he finally meets his match in FBI Agent Carl Hanratty who’s determined to do what it takes to pull Frank Jr. out of the game for good.

Released in 2002 with Steven Spielberg directing and starring Leonardo Dicaprio opposite Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can became a success of the Silver Screen and garnered two Academy Awards; so, if we have learned something of recent years, if something succeeds in Hollywood, Broadway may come a’callin.  The overall issue with Catch Me If You Can as a musical show however, isn’t that the original material isn’t strong but we get a sense that belief from the creators in the material isn’t strong. In fact the story of Catch Me contains a deep and complex narrative involving a father/son relationship, location hopping that is ripe for magnificent set pieces and a wonderful time period for Jet-Setting music that can set a nostalgic tone, but the the creators of the musical never allowed the story to be just the story – they have imbued a flashback convention ala a TV variety show that doesn’t allow the show to open up to its full potential. Instead of being handed an intimate relationship tale or a discovery story about self identity, we get a Sit-Com geared piece of fluff which doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of it’s original predecessor; when you have solid talents on-hand like author Terrence McNally (Ragtime) and Composer Marc Shaiman (Hairspray/NBC’s Smash), its questionable how this happened. 

So how has the National tour separated itself from it’s Broadway counterpart? Well, it hasn’t and that’s a large problem. Currently running at the Cadillac Palace Theater, the bus and truck caravan has picked up right where its Broadway counterpart closed – the good thing is that while the show isn’t the film exactly, audiences will still get an enjoyable night out at the theatre.

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Setup as a show-within-a-show concept, Catch Me clocks in at roughly 2 1/2 hours but is full of energy and just enough pizazz to switch your brain off.  Choreography has been tackled with confusing poise by Jerry Mitchell, mostly because we are treated to leggy Radio City Rockette types clad in Pan Am or nursing uniforms displaying chosen moves which help to enhance time period, but confusing  when you can pinpoint the time period is going for exactly. musical numbers by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are jazzy and fun but for the most part not entirely integral to the show’s formation – most numbers will keep toes tapping and sell cds but they don’t serve any further purpose than to reiterate the material we have just witnessed in each dialogued scene. Set design is minimal but effectively works to capture the mod-influenced styles of the early 60’s without going full steam, while Lighting design is one of the highlights and reasons to catch this production as Kenneth Posner has brought the World of Frank Abagnale to life in eye-popping blues, pinks and greens all reminiscent of the Jet-Setting by-gone era of a much more juxtaposed laid-back time of expansion in America; if you are gonna go with a concentrated convention, it might as well be bold.

Finally, Stephen Anthony who plays the young Frank in this production is a real treat to watch. Taking on the role as even a slightly more innocent and optimistic turn than Dicaprio, Anthony brings a dynamic punch to the eagerness of adolescent years. Vocally, Anthony has a wonderful tone and confidence in his instrument but knows when to draw back to allow for character evolution, to which the pinnacle is seen in the second act number “Goodbye” and proves that Frank’s true colors have been just lying in wait all along, and Anthony can pull out all the stops.  For the rest of the cast members they are enjoyable and help to bring the story to life but somehow feel ill-placed along-side the show’s talented lead.

Overall, Catch Me If You Can is an enjoyable show that is entertaining but don’t expect too much more. Aside from the lead, the cast show they know their craft but don’t rise to meeting the talents in Anthony, while the book and music falter too much from not ever fully embracing the true heart of what madeCatch Me If You Can great to begin with. If you want an evening out where you can enjoy some relaxation and an opportunity to turn your brain off then stop by the Cadillac Palace and pick up a ticket, but if you are looking for something with a bit more bite you may want to turn down the block and catch another big film adaptation involving imagination and huge story.

When: Through April 14
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Tickets: $18-$85 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films 

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