Some shows simply demand attention.
When “Les Miserables,” “Wicked,” “Miss Saigon,” or “Memphis,” come through town, those thirsty for water cooler bragging rights don’t think twice about plunking down their credit cards for tickets.
The current touring company of last season’s Tony nominee, “Catch Me if You Can,” fails to achieve such can’t-miss status. But it does provide a thoroughly enjoyable night of musical theater.
“Catch Me if You Can” is based on the true story of con man Frank Abagnale, first told in a 2000 bestselling autobiography then in a 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. A full synopsis may be found here.
While the tale is interesting, and the parallels between Abagnale and his FBI pursuer Carl Hanratty sometimes touching, the effort to cram a 1960s spy chase tale into a flashback variety show setting comes across as just a tad too contrived.
That said, performances by young Steven Anthony as Abagnale and, particularly, Merritt David Janes as Hanratty, are terrific. The onstage orchestra, reminiscent of Lawrence Welk’s sans bubbles, is first-rate. Their presence, along with lush curtains and interesting projections, provide a set worthy of Broadway in Chicago’s sponsorship.
Contrived or not, Terrance McNally’s book is a splendid showcase for “Hairspray” creators Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s music and big dance numbers choreographed by Jerry Mitchell. With a 34-person cast performing “Live in Living Color” and others, patrons are reminded that top flight dance is the key separator between terrific amateur and truly professional musical-theater
In this capable ensemble, the men overall display a greater precision than the ladies. But in a nod to the women, the opening number in Act II, “Doctor’s Orders,” is likely to have more than a few male patrons yearning for hospitalization.
Perhaps that hospitalization will be for melancholy brought about by this show’s lost opportunity for theatrical relevance. Because by glimpsing into human circumstances that really matter (a father’s failures, children’s need for parental examples, sad realities of a marriage of convenience, ills of all-consuming work, the need for trust and truth in relationships…) “Catch…” ultimately cons its audience by never fully developing any of these important themes.
To those with tickets, thoroughly enjoy the lovely “Fly, Fly Away” and equally so (though lesser known) “Seven Wonders.” Appreciate an evening of professional theater and the abundant talent on and back stage it takes to put on such a production.
To those without tickets, know that water cooler status, sadly, will not be judged by attendance of this show. That said, it is worth catching it if you can.
About the author: Barry Reszel is a Libertyville-based writer, at-home dad and executive director of the not-for-profit entertainment company Liberty Town Productions.