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Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Catch Me If You Can
Chameleon Theatre Circle
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of C., Buyer & Cellar, Watermelon Hill and A Night with Janis Joplin

John Goodrich and Austin Stole
Photo by Daniel K. McDermott for Sinsear Productions
Catch Me If You Can is a terrific rendition of an old-fashioned show. By that I mean not an old-fashioned stage musical, but an old-fashioned (1960s vintage) TV variety show. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2011, is based on the 2002 film that told the truth-is-stranger-than-fiction story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who ran away from home at age 16 and by age 19 had cashed fraudulent checks worth millions of dollars and had impersonated, and flown thousands of miles as, a Pan Am pilot, a pediatric surgeon in Georgia, and a lawyer in Louisiana. The show is on view in a Chameleon Theater Circle production at the Ames Center's Black Box Theater in Burnsville.

Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) conceived Catch Me If You Canin the mold of the great old variety shows once so popular on network TV. The story takes place between 1963 and 1966 when we had "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Hollywood Palace," and shows hosted by Perry Como, Gary Moore, Red Skelton, Andy Williams, Jackie Gleason, Danny Kaye and—perhaps the most suave purveyor of the form—Dean Martin. Dinah Shore's long-running show ended in 1962, and the great Carol Burnett show first aired in 1967, so the Catch Me If You Can years were presided over by men on TV. Their shows tended to include male fantasy production numbers with long-limbed, revealingly clad female dancers, percussive musical arrangements, and double entendre laden humor. That pretty well describes Catch Me If You Can, too, at least the musical numbers which are somewhat at odds with Terrence McNally's more heartfelt, at moments even poignant, book.

Frank Abagnale play-acted numerous roles, wore snazzy costumes and (at least on stage and screen) was surrounded by comely women. The scams he pulled off were so incredible that staging them as over-the top production numbers in tune with the time period seems like a stroke of genius. The problem is, they make Abagnale into a cardboard character, detached from the real story of a teenager driven by dreams of reuniting his French war-bride mother and shady business-dealing father whose marriage has gone off a cliff. Frank Jr. especially wants to redeem his father, whom he idolizes. There is also Abagnale's relationship with FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who in the course of heading up the hunt for Abagnale, evolves from being his pursuer to a father figure. These plot points are well written in McNally's book, but each musical number brings them to a halt rather than moving them forward.

The musical numbers are entertaining, no problem there. Shaiman and Wittman know how to write catchy tunes and bright lyrics, and their work in the smash Hairspray shows their affinity for early 1960s sounds. However, while Hairspray celebrated the nascent rock and soul music of its era—highly energized music that captured the ascendant spirit of the time—Catch Me If You Can's songs mirror safer sounds of the cocktail lounge and floor show. The songs in those TV spots were just fine for their occasions, but not memorable. They were rarely the hit songs receiving radio play. The same could be said for Shaiman and Wittman's score: it provides a soundscape for plenty of lively dancing and clever harmonizing, but it is like a bright balloon that makes everything festive while it is inflated, but loses all its air as soon as the party is over.

In the leading roles are two actors little seen before on Twin Cities stages: Austin Stole as Frank Abagnale Jr, the young con artist, and John Goodrich as Carl Hanratty, the FBI man, and both make great first impressions. Stole has the good looks, confidence, intelligence, and smooth voice to convincingly play Abagnale, and he is able to draw out the tenderness needed for some of the book scenes. When the end of his con game closes in, Stole brings power to "Goodbye," conveying both hope and regret. Goodrich brings out Hanratty's serious and virtuous nature, as well as the emptiness of his life off the job. He scores well in duets with Frank Jr. ("My Favorite Time of Year" and "Stuck Together") and Frank Sr. ("Little Boy, Be a Man") but doesn't pull out the stops far enough to totally deliver his big song and dance, "Don't Break the Rules," a number that seems inspired by the manic energy of a Louis Prima.

Wade Fields is terrific as Frank Abagnale Sr., the father whose failed pipe dreams are seen as the source of his son's drive to strike it rich. His duet with Frank Jr., "Butter Outta Cream," conveys a Rat Pack quality, with hints of Sinatra and Dean Martin, and in "The Pinstripes Are All That They See," he lays bare his jaded take on life. Nicole Korbisch has the right aloof quality as Frank Jr.'s mother, whose own disappointments in life have scarred her son, but her voice is rather tentative, perhaps due to the unfortunate French accent she struggles to present. Brianna Keener plays Brenda Strong, a nurse who becomes Frank Jr.'s love interest. Her initial reticence evolves into a genuine connection with the enigmatic young man, feelings she conveys dramatically in "Fly, Fly Away." The ensemble performs well, particularly the actors who comprise Hanratty's team of FBI agents.

Catch Me If You Can has great potential as a dance show, what with those production numbers. Shannon Townsend has choreographed the show around an ensemble that moves well, but are not strong dancers, providing rousing movement in unison and evocative stage pictures. Music director Dale Miller conducts a strong band that makes the most of the score's brassy tones, and specialized sounds, including a samba for "Don't Be a Stranger,"

The simple set has a central raised platform with stairs leading down from both sides, a useful device for staging those fussy production numbers. The costumes reflect the show's era well and allow the female ensemble members to be just leggy enough without violating the restraints still in force at that time. Lighting was used effectively to shift between the quieter and more boisterous scenes, and also to allow set pieces to be unobtrusively carried in and out. The sound system seemed off at the performance I attended, such that on several occasions the first words of a speaker lacked amplification, a problem that has hopefully been corrected.

In Catch Me If You Can we have a good, not great, musical that might have been better if the creative team had found a way to bring together its two faces: the high-stepping variety numbers and the heartfelt story of a young man's flight from his own life. Chameleon Theatre Circle's production mines the show's many good qualities, all there to be enjoyed, even if the parts never quite add up to the big time.

Catch Me If You Can, produced by Chameleon Theatre Circle, continues at the Ames Center's Black Box Theater through April 24, 2016. 12600 Nicollet Avenue South, Burnsville, MN. Tickets are $22.00, $19.00 for seniors, students and Minnesota Fringe Button Holders. For tickets call 952-895-4680 or go to

Book: Terrence McNally; Music: Marc Shaiman; Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman; Director: Avian Jangula; Music Director: Dale Miller; Vocal Director: Emily Villano; Choreographer: Shannon Townsend; Scenic Design: Shannon Morgan; Costume Design: Michelle Clark; Lighting Design: Alex Clark; Sound Design: Forest Godfrey; Hair and Makeup Design: Kari Elizabeth Godfrey; Prop Design: Terri Ristow; Stage Manager: Chris Engelhard; Technical Director: Andi Billig; Producers: Andrew Troth and Jim Vogel.

Cast: Emanuel Ardeleanu (Agent Branton), Misty Brehmer (ensemble), Jim Christianson (Roger Strong, ensemble), Ali Close (Cheryl Ann, ensemble), Julia Ennen (ensemble), Wade Fields (Frank Abagnale, Sr.), Maria Isabel Gonzalez (ensemble), John Goodrich (Carl Hanratty), Brianna Keener (Brenda Strong), Nicole Korbisch (Paula Abagnale), Marlo Miller (Carol Strong, ensemble), Mark Olson (Agent Cod), Tony Omodt-Lopez (Agent Dollar), Jackie O'Neil (ensemble), Sean Richter (ensemble), Austin Stole (Frank Abagnale, Jr.), Chris Unger (ensemble), Ryan Voss (ensemble).

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