Regional Reviews: Chicago
Catch Me If You Can
The biography of the legendary con man and imposter Frank Abagnale Jr. (made more famous by the Steven Spielberg film of the same name starring Leonardo Di Caprio) is not a story that follows the standard formula. Sure, there's something Frank Jr. wants badlyto have his parents remain married so they can have a stable family. The teenager pursues that goalby forging checks and convincing people he's alternately an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyerall supposedly to make enough money to pay off his father's tax debts and somehow convince his mother to return to his father. In doing so, though, he has altogether too much fun and too much success at it. Though he tells his rascal father it's all to help him out, we don't really see where Frank Jr.'s scams are steps toward the greater goal and as a result we don't get invested in his journeynot in the way the best musicals make us feel.
Instead, each of Frank Jr.'s escapades is set to music and dance. The ensemble behind him is justified as being part of "The Frank Abagnale Jr. Show," a network TV special in his mind. The device is mostly dropped after the opening number, but the musical still has the feel of a 1960s network TV variety show special. William Ivey Long's costumes, Rockwell's sets, video projections by Bob Bonniol and Shaman's melodies all contribute to dead-on pastiches of the '60s, deliberately complete with that era's notorious objectification of women. Mitchell's dances evoke the steps one might recognize from "Hullabaloo" and other TV variety shows, and they're appropriate if not surprising or awe-inspiring. It's all quite capably performed by the principals and ensemble of this non-Equity cast. It's fun and entertaining as well, even though so much of it tends to be at the same eager-to-please high level of energy.
There's a good reason to see this non-Equity tour, though, and it's the opportunity to catch young Stephen Anthony while you can. In the lead role of Frank Jr., this recent college grad is able to carry the show with the help of an expressive pop voice and an impressive range. He's totally watchable throughout and puts across Frank Jr.'s quieter, more expressive moments as well as the kid's cockiness and self-assuredness. It's clearly a bigger role than that of Frank's pursuer Carl Hanratty, the part for which Norbert Leo Butz won a Tony in 2011. As Hanratty, Merritt David Janes creates a likable, nerdy FBI agentmarried to his job but in touch with his softer side as he and Abagnale develop a sort of bond throughout Hanratty's pursuit of the teenaged imposter. Janes has a solid voice, which he adapts to suit the nasal voice he uses for his character and handles his balladic duet (with the charming Dominic Fortuna as Frank Sr.) as well as his comedy numbers. Aubrey Mae Davis is Frank Jr.'s love interest Brenda, who doesn't arrive until the second act. She does a terrific job with "Fly, Fly Away," a nice power ballad by Shaiman and Wittman, though not fully earned dramatically since we haven't seen enough of Brenda's involvement with Frank to fully feel the love for him that would justify her helping Frank escape the authorities.
I'd contend it's only been in the past few decades that musicals have dealt realistically with male characters. Most of the classics of the golden age treat their men as either ideals or as flawed creatures to be redeemed by their women. The creative team is to be commended for taking on a story of a three believably imperfect guys who grow on their journey even without the help of a saintly heroine. They might have made Catch Me If You Can a deeper story with a more cathartic ending, but they gave us a refreshingly different and entertaining musical, even if not an entirely successful one.
Catch Me If You Can will play the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, through April 14, 2013. For ticket information, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com, call 800-775-2000 or visit one of the Broadway in Chicago box offices. For more information on the tour, visit www.catchmeontour.com.