The jaw-dropping story of con man extraordinaire Frank Abagnale, Jr. proved irresistible to Steven Spielberg.
The Oscar-winning director’s 2002 movie Catch Me if You Can, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as the precocious con artist, seemed to close the book on Abagnale’s life story.
Was anyone clamoring for a musical interpretation?
The 2011 Broadway musical of the same name still generated enough consumer loyalty and critical love to spark the show’s current road trip. The show’s first national tour, playing through March 10 at Denver’s The Buell Theatre before jetting off to L.A., Chicago, East Lansing, MI and Milwaukee, keeps the story’s bullet points more or less intact. What’s missing are the show-stopping moments to make the production resonate during its maiden flight.
Young Frank Abagnale (Stephen Anthony) is let down by his seemingly perfect family, an emotional sucker punch that nudges his life on a criminal trajectory. He takes the sage advice of his father (Dominic Fortuna), dons a uniform in school, and realizes people treat you differently when you look like you’re in charge.
That minor triumph, combined with his sweet demeanor and a knack for lying under pressure, lands him work first as a Pan Am co-pilot and, later, a medical director. The gigs may be glamorous, but Frank’s ability to pass off fake checks for real cash attracts the attention of shlumpy FBI Agent Agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes).
The musical boasts an impressive behind the scenes team (Terrence McNally of Ragtime fame along with songs by Hairspray alum Marc Shaiman) which deftly turns a complicated life story into compelling, easily digested morsels. Live in Living Color, the jubilant opening number, does much of the heavy exposition lifting while establishing Anthony’s chipper appeal.
McNally’s book offers sporadic humor, with a few punch lines dropped haphazardly into the story. Others land beautifully, like when a character marvels at Pan Am’s efficiency and declares the airline will “always” be around.
Catch Me’s set and costume designs are flawless, capturing the heady ’60s without overwhelming us, Mad Men style. So why won’t the musical soar like a Flower Power-era jet?
The vital chemistry between Frank and Carl never emerges as it should, and the songs rarely soar above the setting. One notable exception is Good-bye, a number Anthony tears into with a ferocity we wish he tapped more often.
The second act’s love story is appropriately sweet, and as Frank inches closer to his target we feel for our antihero’s future even if he richly deserves a lengthy prison sentence.
Catch Me if You Can, nominated for four Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards, is a near-miss experience that still makes for a compelling con job.