Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Catch Me If You Can
Actor's Youth Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Joey Grado, Liam Thibeault and Cast
Photo Courtesy of Actor's Youth Theatre
If you're looking for a snazzy, jazzy musical comedy, look no further than Catch Me If You Can, based on the autobiographical book and movie of the same name (the hit 2002 movie was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Leonardo DiCaprio). From the creators of Hairspray, this musical is set in the swinging '60s and the score and theme of the show perfectly evoke the period and style of a 1960s variety show. While this show didn't run that long on Broadway, it has proven quite popular in regional theatres—two productions are currently running in town and another is already planned for next season. Actor's Youth Theatre's production stars two multi-talented teens who deliver excellent portrayals of the two leads: a young con man on the run and the FBI agent trying to catch him.

Catch Me If You Can tells the tale of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a young man who runs away from home with only his charm, his imagination, and his checkbook filled with fifty blank checks. He wants to be someone else and live a glamorous jet set life. Frank first starts to forge checks, then turns his ability to deceive others into passing himself off as a pilot for Pan American World Airways. Things escalate from there, with Frank always on the run from the FBI and especially the agent out to get him, Carl Hanratty.

The show begins with Frank getting caught by Hanratty. And when Frank pleads with him to let people know why they are chasing him, in order to tell them his story, Hanratty agrees and the show becomes Frank's personal variety show, with him introducing the people in his life and various vignettes being presented that highlight key moments in his journey. The play within a play structure works well as a way for Frank to tell us how he got to be where he is and why he did what he did.

The score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman has several memorable tunes, as well as many that are character specific or plot focused, including the catchy numbers "Live in Living Color," "Jet Set," "Doctor's Orders" and "Goodbye." The book by Terrence McNally touches on the important plot elements and turning points in Frank's life. While I like how the relationship between Frank and Carl is dramatized, the ending, showing what happened to them, feels a bit rushed and forced. There are also a few slow moments, especially the scenes with Hanratty and his fellow agents. But these are just a few quibbles in a fun and jazzy show.

Director Julie Clement keeps the show moving at a quick pace, with fine use of two areas on the sides of the stage with steps and curtains that are stepped in the elegant style of 1960s variety shows. While Clement does good work, there are a couple of rough patches along the way, mostly to do with the previously mentioned prolonged and slow book scenes.

Joey Grado is Frank, and Liam Thibeault is Hanratty. They both excel in their roles, have great singing voices and charisma, and form a strong rapport with the audience. They also display a very good relationship with each other, even though one is the cat and the other the mouse. Grado has several songs that show off his strong, beautiful voice and he infuses Frank with a huge amount of charisma, which works well in his portrayal of this lovable crook. His sleek, limber dance moves contribute nicely to the many scenes in which he dances with the very large ensemble. Thibeault makes some exceptional acting choices to give weight and depth to this somewhat broken-down man. He also uses a slightly hunched over body posture and some nervous facial and body ticks to portray a man many years older than he actually is, and it all works splendidly. He also adds bits of comedy, including some funny dance steps. His number in the first act, "Don't Break the Rules," where he finds himself in the middle of the dancing ensemble, builds into a major showstopper.

Jacob Peterson and Haley Reed do well as Frank's parents, with Reed's French accent and sensuous but loving portrayal quite fetching. Jasmine Bassham is Brenda, the girl Frank falls in love with, and she delivers a lovely version of a beautiful ballad, "Fly, Fly Away," that perfectly captures the need to run away from something and to find oneself. In smaller parts, Bryce Dilullo, Kale Klein, and Mason Redd add some humor as Hanratty's fellow agents, and Kayleah Wilson and Austin Porter are both strong as Brenda's parents.

The choreography by Corrinne Mann, Kristen Malarkey, and Marcus Ellsworth is fun, inventive, original, and somewhat period specific. However, the minimal set design and dark lighting (the use of a spotlight is good, but there are many times when the supporting cast are barely lit) don't quite evoke the idea of a 1960s variety show. Also, while there are some microphones used, there are a few moments when actors far upstage can't be heard very well. More focused lighting, better microphone positioning, or stronger projection from the actors would help offset these issues. Clement also provided the costumes and they are excellent representations of the period.

Catch Me If You Can may not have proven popular in its initial Broadway run but it does have a catchy score, an intriguing book, and characters that actors can sink their teeth into it. With excellent performances by Joey Grado and Liam Thibeault, the Actor's Youth Theatre production is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical endeavor.

The Actor's Youth Theatre production of Catch Me If You Can runs through July 1st, 2017, with performances at the Tuscany Theatre, 861 N Higley Rd, Suite 105, Gilbert, AZ 85234. Tickets and information can be found at or by calling 480-907-7050

Directed by Julie Clement
Choreographers: Corrinne Mann, Kristen Malarkey & Marcus Ellsworth
Costume & Prop Designer: Julie Clement
Lighting Designer: Silvio Gillespie

Frank Abagnale Jr.: Joey Grado
Carl Hanratty: Liam Thibeault
Frank Abagnale Sr.: Jacob Peterson
Paula Abagnale: Haley Reed
Brenda Strong: Jasmine Bassham
Carol Strong: Kayleah Wilson
Roger Strong: Austin Porter
Cheryl Ann: Emily Wright
Agent Branton: Bryce Dilullo
Agent Cod: Kale Klein
Agent Dollar: Mason Redd
Atlanta Doctor/Tailor: Hayden Biggs
Ensemble: Tamara Benham, Sara Blue, Lilla Brandt, Madison Brassow, Jaelyn Brown, Audrey Coleman, Kalei Cotecson, Amanda Fischer, Kale Klein, AJ Marshall, Emma Martin, Cara Onofryton, Miranda Smith, Lindsey Stevens