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Review: Catch Me If You Can at the Majestic

October 25, 2012

Well, the Wicked Stage was perfectly ready to spread some snark after discovering that the first national tour of Catch Me If You Can was—horrors!—non-Equity (that is to say, non-union): that’s the sort of cost-cutting measure usually reserved for a tour that has seen a few go-arounds. But for all of our wickedness—and venom normally courses through our veins—we really can’t find much wrong with the production (as a production) currently playing at the Majestic: sure, some of the actors are a bit too young for their parts, and some of the scenery is necessarily scaled down for the road, but it’s got sparkle and polish and talent. It’s definitely a respectable facsimile of the original Broadway show.

Of course, that’s also its problem. The original production received mixed-to-poor reviews on Broadway—even with a Tony Award for star Norbert Leo Butz—and ran for less than half a year; in fact, I caught it in New York largely because I figured it would never tour to San Antonio.  (I’ve usually a pretty good nose for that sort of thing, but not always.) So on Tuesday evening, there it was, and there I was, and by the end of the evening, my opinion remained largely unchanged: Catch Me If You Can is a pleasant enough musicalization of Spielberg’s iconic film, but its creators never really solve the tension between the musical’s form—splashy dance numbers in the style of the Ed Sullivan show—and its content: a young man’s desperate dash across America, on a journey powered solely by fraud. Other similarly-constructed musicals have an obvious connection to their plot, from the decadent burlesques of Cabaret, to the vaudeville routines of The Will Rogers Follies, to the minstrel show framework of The Scottsboro Boys. But the twin narrative arcs of Catch Me if You Can are interstate crime and familial dysfunction: neither theme exactly screams for the Ed Sullivan treatment. It seems arbitrary.

Well, not exactly arbitrary. The Ed Sullivan treatment does allow for plenty of leggy nurses, and leggy stewardesses, and leggy—well, you get the point. The production numbers, choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, are good, fizzy fun, particularly a Pan Am inspired fantasia in the first act, and a massive Dixieland fête in the second. And both leads—Stephen Anthony as crook Frank Abagnale, Jr., and Merrit David Janes as FBI Agent Hanratty—are charismatic and watchable, backed by an elevated (and really smokin’) Catch Me If You Can band. (The brass in particular are tight, even if the sound balance was occasionally off on opening night.) The sixties-ish score is bright and perky but doesn’t match the tunefulness of Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s other pieces (both have worked on Hairspray and the TV show Smash). Among the supporting cast, Caitlin Maloney stands out as Junior’s long-suffering mother—in many ways, she’s a soul as lost as her own son.

Terence McNally’s book packs a lot of plot, but loses steam in its second act. A fiancée’s role is so underdeveloped that her big ballad—“Fly, Fly Away”—doesn’t land with the impact that it should: we simply don’t know (or care) enough about her. (In fact, there’s an entirely different, and perhaps better, musical to be created just about Frank’s relationship with his completely duped girlfriend. There are some scary places to go, here; but McNally shies from them.) Matt Lenz recreates Jack O’Brien’s original (excellent) direction: Bob Bonniol’s videos absolutely pop at the back of David Rockwell’s sleek, stylish set.

So, if you’re a fan of the movie, or a fan of big, energetic dance numbers, Catch Me If You Can is probably worth catching: it’s not the best thing ever to blow through San Antonio, but it’s far from the worst. We give it a B-, and must regretfully reconsider our wickedness.

(And for those hiring a baby-sitter: the musical runs 2 hours, 40 minutes. I always appreciate knowing such things, myself.)

–Thomas Jenkins

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