Catch Me If You Can
Neil Simon Theatre - July 2011
Review by John Kenrick
Although Catch Me If You Can is the latest in a long line of delightful musical comedies about loveable thieves, it is ironically the first one I know of that is stolen by a lawman. But more on that later.
Like the hit film for which it is named, Catch Me If You Can is inspired by the story of Frank Abagnale, a teenage con artist who kited $2.5 million worth of checks, passed himself off as a doctor, attorney and surgeon, and led the FBI on a merry five year chase in the 1960s. After serving prison time, he spent more than three decades helping the bureau catch other fraud artists, but Abagnale's criminal years became the stuff of urban legend. Like the movie, this musical pits him against against Carl Hanratty, a fictional conglomeration of several FBI agents who pursued him over the years.
Terrence McNally's polished libretto begins with Frank's arrest in an airport lounge, where he spends his final moments of freedom looking back on the family crisis and cavalcade of crimes that led him to this point. This allows Frank and tenacious FBI agent Carl Hanratty serve as narrators. This allows the epic story to flow easily, the ever-shifting locations framed by a massive Las Vegas-style bandstand. Like the delicious score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the clever settings by David Rockwell, stylish costumes by William Ivey Long and handsome lighting by Kenneth Posner throb with high 60s style. From the bouncy opening "Live in Living Color" onwards, you keep expecting Frank, Dino and the rest of the Rat Pack to saunter out, cocktails in hand and ready to join in the fun. Director Jack O'Brien has done a bang-up job of making all this flow seamlessly, abetted by Jerry Mitchell's period-perfect choreography.
With a powerhouse tenor, flawless comic timing, and a generous jolt of genuine sex appeal, Aaron Tveit, who knocked Broadway for a loop as the tormented son in Next to Normal, is downright dazzling as Frank. But for all his dazzling smiles and boundless energy, Tveit cannot prevent the brilliant Norbert Leo Butz from stealing the spotlight and the audience's hearts as Hanratty. I do not find this the least bit surprising. Like many others, I relished his Tony-winning work in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and I will never forget when the otherwise deadly flop Thou Shalt Not got a sudden spasm of life as Butz (whose character was murdered early on) rose from the grave in the second act for some jubilant barefooted hoofing. In Catch Me, he masterfully underplays Hanratty's dreary way through the earliest scenes, then literally kicks into high gear during "Don't Break the Rules," proclaiming a strict belief in law and order while his facial tics and wild kicks ingeniously betray a volcano of emotional repression. This is that rare, genuine show-stopping moment that actors pray for, and that theatergoers relish.
Between them, Tveit and Butz make their polar opposite characters interact with deceptive ease, providing the kind of teamwork that makes for memorable entertainment. Frank's shameless delight in his exploits and Hanratty's utter determination to end Frank's spree keep you wondering who to root for. By the time they joined forces for the final song "Strange But True," I found myself sorry that this sweet journey was coming to its final curtain.
Tom Wopat is excellent as Frank's beloved amoral father, interrupting his character's gradual descent into hell to croon his survival philosophy in the charming "Butter Outta Cream." As young Frank's admiring girlfriend, knockout Karry Butler turns "Fly, Fly Away" into a showstopper, and Broadway veterans Nick Wyman and Linda Hart do some deft scene stealing as the girl's doting parents.
If you are in the market for a fresh, funny, tuneful musical comedy packed with style and overflowing with talent, look no further -- Catch Me If You Can is all that and then some. The fact that so many critics have pooh-poohed this delightful, skillfully crafted show while falling over themselves to worship a vulgar, adolescent mediocrity like The Book of Mormon tells you just how sad a day it is on Broadway today.