Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

Catch Me If You Can, at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre
Gratuitous Violins rating: **1/2 out of ****

I had such high hopes for Catch Me If You Can. I adore Hairspray and I was excited to hear a new score from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman.

Well, I wish things had turned out differently. While Catch Me If You Can was entertaining, it didn't make much of an impact. Except for one production number, the musical flew by without my feeling truly engaged by the story or the score.

Of course, you don't go to the theatre in a vacuum. It was the last show in my New York City trip so maybe I was a bit tired. Also, I was sitting behind someone who, unfortunately, blocked my view of the stage. I was constantly tilting my head from side to side. The very nice house manager moved me to another seat for Act II but by then, it was too late.

Catch Me If You Can is based the exploits of Frank Abagnale Jr., who conned millions of dollars, mostly through forging checks, while posing as a doctor, a lawyer and airline pilot until the FBI finally caught up with him. Steven Spielberg made Abagnale's story into a movie in 2002 starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

As Abagnale, Aaron Tveit moves around the stage nicely and he has a powerful Broadway voice and he's quite handsome. A real triple threat! Unfortunately, Tveit's character never made a strong impression with me. I realize a con man is going to be somewhat elusive but he wasn't all that interesting.

I'm not sure it's totally his fault. I wish Terrence McNally, who wrote the book, had included some more witty, snappy dialogue that really made the characters memorable. The supporting roles seemed underdeveloped, too. Kerry Butler is sweet as Brenda, Abagnale's love interest, but she came and went quickly.

Part of the problem may be the framing device - Abagnale is narrating a TV variety show about his life, so the musical is looking backward. While the opening number, "Live in Living Color," was energetic and it was nice to see and hear a big orchestra onstage, I don't think it served as a great introduction.

The second scene, where we meet the teenage Abagnale and his parents, and get some idea of what his childhood was like, might have been a better way to begin. Knowing a little bit about where Abagnale came from got me much more interested in him. And I liked the duet with Tom Wopat as Frank Sr. - "The Pinstripes Are All That They See."

But even in a show I found disappointing there's always something to savor.

For me, the highlight of Catch Me If You Can was Norbert Leo Butz. I've heard my theatergoing friends praise this Tony-winning performer but I'd never had a chance to see him onstage. He was terrific as the rumpled FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who's in dogged pursuit of Abagnale.

Butz has the advantage of Jerry Mitchell's best choreography for the show, leading a chorus of singing and dancing FBI agents in the hilarious "Don't Break the Rules." It's a terrific number. I wish the rest of the musical had been that good.

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