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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Innocuous Catch Me If You Can
40 Years After Its Broadway Debut

Also see Bob's review of Nocturne

Catch Me If You Cann
Greg Bazaz
When the comedy-mystery Catch Me If You Can, which is being revived by the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, opened on Broadway in 1965, few likely realized that it belonged to a dying era. This play is the type of light, insubstantial fare that had been the mainstay of commercial Broadway theatre. Its type would be soon largely confined to the precincts of community and dinner theaters by the increasing sophistication of motion pictures and television (and the relatively high price of theatre tickets). Catch Me If You Can was not much of a success even in 1965 when it ran for just three months despite the presence in the leads of Dan Dailey (of 20th Century Fox fame) and Tom Bosley (five years after his Broadway triumph in Fiorello).

However, this reviewer thoroughly enjoyed Catch Me If You Can way back when ("I was younger then"), and, despite its thin, rickety construction and believability deficiency, I enjoyed seeing it again at the Bickford.

Daniel Corban nervously paces about his honeymoon cabin awaiting word of his wife Elizabeth who has been missing for three days. Corban finds Inspector Levine to be maddeningly inept and distracted, as well as disinterested in helping him find his wife. He refers to the Inspector as "Rip Van Levine of the Catskills." By the way, your reaction to that line will probably be a better guide for determining your tolerance for this stuff than any recommendation that I could make.

Still, in short order, a priest new to the area arrives, asks Corban if he would take his wife back "with no questions, no reproaches," and opens the door to a woman identifying herself as Elizabeth. Corban insists that she is not who she says she is. When he goes to his room to get photographs of his wife, Corban finds that they have all gone missing. Although no one on stage believes Corban, it is obvious to the audience that whoever this woman is, she is not Elizabeth. Unfortunately, it is so obvious who the pretend Elizabeth is and what has happened to the real one, that most audiences will solve the mystery then and there when the play is not even twenty minutes old.

When intermission rolled around, it seemed that the only saving grace for the balance of the evening would be if the conclusion that appeared so patently obvious proved to be wrong, and the authors had a really clever, unexpected twist in store for us. Well, the authors throw in so many twists and turns, ridiculous and incredible though they be, that I began to think that what appeared obvious might not prove to be so after all. Thus, in its incongruous way, the story does generate fun for a willing audience.

Adapting a French boulevard play by Robert Thomas, Jack Weinstock and Willie Gilbert moved the setting to the resort area of New York's Catskill Mountains. Using this background as an excuse, they named their detective Levine and threw in a lot of Jewish inflected humor to appeal to an audience whose idea of an ideal summer vacation was two weeks at Grossinger's or the Concord (my, how things have changed). Actually, Levine is very much a Jewish Colombo, and one can only wonder if Levinson and Link were influenced by this play when developing the Peter Falk character shortly after Catch Me If You Can was produced in New York.

As far as I can ascertain, this is the only play that Weinstock and Gilbert ever had produced. However, a few years earlier, they had written a treatment for a play based on a non-fiction advice book. When Feuer and Martin decided that their work would make a solid basis for a musical, they ended up teamed with Abe Burrows as co-authors of a little Frank Loesser show known as How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Interestingly, Willie Gilbert was a comedian. When he discovered that his medical doctor Jack Weinstein had a bent for writing comedy, they teamed up writing material for comedy and cabaret performers and stage revues. Their only other musical book was the unfortunate Judy Holiday tuner Hot Spot.

Greg Bazaz is an entertaining Inspector Levine. An adjustment in his vocal inflections, and he could as easily be Colombo. Most importantly, Bazaz gets his laughs. Bill Edwards manages to sustain credibility as the anxiety ridden Corban. Given the authors' flights of fancy, this is no mean feat. Janice Kildea's Elizabeth appropriately keeps us off balance in a role which is entirely made up of artificialities. Similarly, Duncan M. Rogers conveys a creepy artificiality as Elizabeth's co-conspirator, the alleged Father Kelleher. The cast is rounded out by the very funny Jim Folly as Sammy, the proprietor of a local sandwich shop, and the late appearance of Tamara Dombroski and Rich Maloy

Barbara Krajkowski maintains a fast pace throughout, which helps maintain our interest in the proceedings. Bill Motyka has designed a full realistic cabin set which includes a stone fireplace. It provides an anchor in reality for a play which really needs one.

If the prospect of a light mystery-comedy appeals to you, go and enjoy.

Catch Me If You Can continues performances (Thurs., Fri. & Sat. 8 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) through December 10, 2006 at the Bickford Theatre in residence at the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Road, Morristown, NJ 07960; Box Office: 973-971-3706; online www.bickfordtheatre.org/

Catch Me If You Can By Jack Weinstock And Willie Gilbert; Directed By Barbara Krajkowski

Cast
Daniel Corban……………Bill Edwards
Inspector Levine…………….Greg Bazaz
Father Kelleher…… Duncan M. Rogers
Elizabeth………………….Janice Kildea
Sidney…………………………..Jim Folly
Mrs. Parker……Tamara Dombrowski
Everett Parker……………….Rich Maloy


Photo: Warren Westura


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- Bob Rendell



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