Sometimes all you need is a star-making performance to make a show. The fresh-faced and ideally cast Stephen Anthony, who plays infamous con man Frank Abagnale Jr., offers such a performance in the first national tour of Catch Me If You Can which is playing through April 14 at the Cadillac Place Theatre. While Anthony takes a while to find his footing, mostly due to the inherent problems with the show's structure, by act two we are firmly rooting for this kid, criminal or not.
This is my first time seeing any incarnation of this musical, which is based on the 2002 film and had a short life on Broadway. However, I feel I've seen this show before -- at least the music gives that impression. Songwriting duo Marc Shaiman (music and lyrics) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) know how to write a bouncy, jaunty tune, filled with clever pop culture references and brassy horn sections. However, large chunks of it sound like material from their big hit, Hairspray and, more recently, their work on NBC's Smash. In fact, a duet between Abagnale Jr. and his father had entire musical phrases lifted from the duet between papa and mama Turnblad in Hairspray, "You're Timeless to Me."
Another core problem with the show is the creators' decision to use a late 1950s variety show format to present Abagnale Jr.'s high-paced con life. It's a fun, musical concept that offers moments for Jerry Mitchell's kick lines and William Ivey Long-clad chorus girls, but the inherent slickness glosses over those rare, meaningful moments that should pull us into what drives Abagnale Jr. to became one of the world's most sought-after imposters at the age of 16.
However, late in act two the show finally drops the slick facade and finds its heart. Abagnale Jr.'s fiance, Brenda (the appealing Aubrey Mae Davis), bears her soul with "Fly, Fly Away" directly followed by Frank's ultimate surrender, "Good-Bye."
A zesty onstage orchestra fills the otherwise bare stage, and a digital backdrop gets the job done in moving us through Frank's various locals as he dodges the hot-on-his-heels detective (a very strong Merritt David Janes playing a role originated by Norbert Leo Butz, who's currently starring in Big Fish, previewing at the Oriental Theatre down the street).
Aside from my reservations with the show, Anthony's star-making performance made me sit forward.
"Catch Me If You Can" plays through April 14 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. More info here.
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