Theater Review: 'Catch Me If You Can'

By: 
Ben Miles

Frank Abagnale Jr. was such a fascinating imposture that a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio was made in 2002 based on Abagnale’s 1980 autobiography, titled “Catch Me if You Can.” Then with the help of Terrence McNally, who wrote the libretto, and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman who created the theatrical score – Abagnale’s story became a stage musical – debuting in 2011at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, where it received four Tony Award nominations including for Best Musical, and winning the Best Actor in a Musical trophy for the show’s star, Norbet Leo  Butz.

At last, “Catch Me if You Can” is having its Southern California premier at Long Beach’s own Musical Theatre West –  on the boards at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts through April 14. With precise direction by Larry Rabin, toe-tapping musical direction by Dennis Castellano, and luscious eye-candy choreography by Peggy Hickey, Catch Me is a musical extravaganza employing 23 performers in 21 scenes,  packed tightly into two acts, with over a dozen and-a-half song and dance numbers.

The real-life story – as unbelievable as it is – traces the mischievous adventures of Abagnale from the ages of 15 to 21 conning himself off as a Pan Am airline pilot, an emergency room physician, and an attorney (he actually passed the Louisiana bar exam and forged a transcript from Harvard University Law School). He funded his confidence game through a fortune’s worth of forged checks. Delightfully, the musical captures the impetuous charm of the young Abagnale (played with athleticism, charismatic musicality and loads of élan by Jacob Haren).

FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (portrayed with hilariously deadpan timing and surprisingly agile dance moves by Jeff Skowron) is Inspector Javert to Abagnale’s Jean Valjean (forgive the parallel to Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”). Indeed, Hanratty is obsessed with Abagnale’s criminal aborations.

Intriguingly, “Catch Me” illustrates the drudgery of such investigative work while underscoring the shear pleasure that Abagnale took in his calculated but wayward legal trespasses. The story also alludes to the bonding that can occur between the pursuer and the pursued.

With a muscular but nuanced cast, including Michael Corbett as Frank Abagnale Sr.; Sandy Bainum as Frank Jr.’s mom, Paula Abagnale;  Katie Sapper as Brenda Strong the nurse who becomes Frank Jr.’s wife; and Doug Carfree and Rebecca Spencer as Roger and Carol Strong, Frank Jr.’s Louisiana in-laws. What’s more, is the long-legged ensemble making moves that mesmerize and costumes (by Tamara Becker) that are showy, crafty and more a pleasure to watch than to wear (I’d bet).

With effusive song and dance routines that smoothly guide the narrative – such as the opener, “Live in Living Color” (sung by Haren and company); “Butter Outta Cream” (sung by Haren, Corbett and company); and the closer, “Strange But True” (sung by Haren, Skowron and and company) – and exquisite stagecraft (lighting design by Paul Black; Sound design byAudio Production Geeks), catch  “Catch Me If You Can” while you can.

Musical Theatre West’s production of “Catch Me If You Can” continues through Apri 14 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center – 6200 East Atherton Street, Long Beach, 90815.

For reservations call (562)856-1999. For online ticketing and further information visit musical.org

ben@beachcomber.news

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