Thursday, April 04, 2013

'Catch Me If You Can' Isn't Exactly Begging to Be Caught -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Catch Me If You Can
a recent musical on its first national tour
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru April 14

Catch Me If You Can isn't a terrible musical.

But given its source material and the pedigree of its creative team, it is terribly disappointing.

The true life tale of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who while still a teenager conned his way into working as an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer, was fascinating enough to make for a good movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

And in looking at the Playbill bios of those behind turning Catch Me If You Can into a stage musical, it was hard to keep track of the number of times "Tony Award" was mentioned, as well as the plethora of other great musicals the same folks had worked on.

Composer Marc Shaiman and his co-lyricist Scott Wittman did the same for Hairspray, which was directed and choreographed on Broadway by Jack O'Brien and Jerry Mitchell, respectively, who handle the same tasks for CMIYC. And Terrence McNally, the book writer, has won multiple Tonys for musicals (Ragtime, Kiss of the Spider Woman) as well as his own plays. Even the costumer, William Ivey Long, is a name I've long known as being one of the best in the business.

Photo Credit on all: Carol Rosegg
When I initially heard about Catch Me If You Can being developed into a musical a few years ago, it struck me as a movie that probably didn't need to be.

But given how much I liked not just Hairspray, but Legally Blonde (which Mitchell directed and choreographed), The Visit and A Man of No Importance (whose books were penned by McNally) and even Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (which O'Brien directed), I couldn't help but have high hopes for Catch Me, given those involved.

So I wound up being rather disappointed when the show had a soft Broadway run (just 170 performances) after garnering generally sluggish reviews.

Still, when just two years after its Broadway opening, Catch Me If You Can showed up on my Broadway in Chicago docket, I went into the Cadillac Palace on Tuesday night expecting to be impressed--at least somewhat--even if I hadn't been floored in listening to the cast album on Spotify.

And not shockingly, given how adroitly Shaiman and Wittman can pen a showtune--they're also writing all the original songs for NBC's Smash--and the proven talents of McNally, O'Brien, Mitchell, Long and other crew members, Catch Me If You Can isn't a disaster.

If you haven't seen enough Broadway musicals to have discriminating tastes, you may think this is a really good one, as even with a non-Equity cast, there are several well-sung production numbers, some splashy choreography & costuming and a comprehensible narrative. And having the orchestra on-stage--albeit as part of a thematically-suspect variety show motif--is also fun and their playing is first-rate.

Believe me, I've seen a number of Broadway bred or bound musicals that haven't managed the above.

Yet it was still rather surprising to me how little of Catch Me really seemed to catch me. Whereas so much of Hairspray seemed inspired and felt infectious, this show rarely rose above so-so, both in the songs and how Abagnale's adventures unfolded onstage.

Stephen Anthony does a laudable job as young Frank, shuffling between his life at home and adventures with stewardesses, nurses and ultimately a more earnest romantic entanglement. But whether its the actor, the character or a combination thereof, Frank Abagnale, Jr. never feels imbued with much heart and soul.

And thus, neither does his musical.

Also doing impressive, if not game-changing, work is Merritt David Janes, who comes off like a lesser version of Norbert Leo Butz, who originated the role of Carl Hanratty--essentially Frank's Javert--on Broadway and won a Tony and Drama Desk award for doing so. Ironically, Butz himself is performing just two blocks east on Randolph St. in the pre-Broadway Chicago run of Big Fish.

So the non-Equity cast is not the problem in rendition of Catch Me If You Can--I'd be lying if I suggested that I could distinguish these as non-Broadway voices; Aubrey Mae Davies as Frank's love interest, Brenda, does a particularly nice job with her "Fly, Fly Away" ballad near the end of Act 2.

And neither is any particular song, or the whole lot of them, particularly subpar. "Live in Living Color" made for a lively show opener, "Little Boy, Be a Man," a duet between Hanratty and Frank's dad is rather strong and "Seven Wonders" is a nice take on a love song.

What it essentially comes down to is this, as non-critically astute as it may sound:

Some musicals, even those written by nobodies taking their first stab at it, are magical.

Others, even those created by people with remarkable track records, just aren't.

Somewhat akin to Mel Brooks and Susan Stroman following up The Producers--awesome--with Young Frankenstein--"eh"--with Catch Me If You Can, Hairspray's Shaiman, Wittman, Mitchell and O'Brien just don't catch lightning in a bottle twice.

If you are a Broadway in Chicago subscriber, and/or like me, a musical theater lover who likes to see anything new, this isn't a show I'd insist you stay away from. It has its charms and the quality of this production and its performances is admirable if my suspicions about the core content being the main culprit are correct.

But if you don't happen to catch Catch Me If You Can, I wouldn't worry about it.

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