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April 10, 2011

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Review: Catch Me If You Can

by Jesse North

catch me if you can broadway musical posterA conman has arrived at the Neil Simon Theatre, and his story blows up on stage in spectacular Broadway musical fashion. Catch Me If You Can, based on the Steven Spielberg film of how a teenager—Frank Abagnale Jr.—forged millions of dollars in checks and created false identities that included an airplane pilot, doctor, and lawyer. While the musical (from the composing team of Hairspray) falters in storytelling and tunes, it makes up for it with its stellar cast and production value.

Front and center of Catch Me If You Can is Aaron Tveit in a star-making turn as Frank Jr. Last seen on Broadway as Gabe in Next to Normal, Tveit’s performance solidifies him as a bona fide star, worthy of stage and screen. With killer good looks, endless charm, and one of the strongest voices on Broadway, the role of Frank Jr. allows Tveit to hijack the production, and he takes advantage of every moment. Not only does Tveit execute every dance step and note with tenacity, but his performance exhibits impressive endurance, as he is in nearly every scene. Tveit makes Frank Jr. crafty, but conveys much needed heart with the characters closest to him, making him sympathetic to the audience. His is a not-to-be-missed performance of an actor exploding into stardom.

Tveit’s performance has potential to show darker sides of Frank Jr., but the show’s book by Terrence McNally doesn’t allow for it. Catch Me gets too caught up in the sparkle of “Hey, aren’t all these fake identities fun!”, while forgetting that Frank Jr. suffers from deep-routed pain and is committing serious crimes.

The musical aspect of Catch Me has its hits and misses. The score from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman is lively and fun, but few numbers stuck with me once the curtain came down. That said, the brassy boldness of the music allows for spectacular production numbers created by director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell. Catch Me caters to the ticket buyer that is hungry for that traditional Broadway chorus line of high-kicking showgirls. The show is glamorous and snazzy, creating a palpable energy in the theater. This show is built to please.

Other players that put the pleasure into this show, supporting Tveit’s fantastic performance and the energetic score is one of the best supporting casts of the season. Norbert Leo Butz, who always brings his A game, is in total character mode as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent relentlessly pursuing Frank Jr. With his hunched walk and “Can you believe this crap?” gruffness, Butz creates the perfect foil to Tveit’s cagey charmer. And while he might not be the musical star of this show, Butz reminds us that he is still one of the best actors in this genre with his show-stopping number “Don’t Break The Rules.”

In the crucial role of Frank Sr., as he is his son’s primary influence, Tom Wopat gives a beautifully understated performance as Frank Jr.’s father. The two actors share a warm chemistry, and while Wopat conveys a love and protectiveness over his son, he also adds a slightly disturbing sense of pride over the illegal acts of Frank Jr. that gives interesting darkness to the character.

After Tveit, Kerry Butler provides Catch Me’s other tremendous performance. As Brenda, Frank Jr.’s love interest, Butler doesn’t get to do much else in Act I besides glide across the stage. Even when she does this though, Butler does it with a patience that hints that she’s ready to unleash everything she’s got in Act II. And that’s exactly what she does. While she and Frank Jr. develop their romance, Butler remains sweet, but adds the sincerity to keep it from getting sticky. Her Brenda is a little jaded and disappointed when it comes to love and life’s other paths. This gives a refreshing twist to the role that could easily be the two-dimensional supporting love interest. And then Butler delivers an atomic bomb.

Butler sings one of the show’s final numbers, “Fly, Fly Away,” and it is the best song in the show. It is a declaration of selflessness in which Butler conveys true love for Frank Jr. For a performer who has been playing leading female roles since 1998, the modest part of Brenda might seem a bit curious. Yet Butler’s delivery of “Fly, Fly Away” is such a heartbreaking powerhouse that it answers the question of why she would take this role. Despite her brief stage time, Butler gives a performance of such nuance and subtle, yet sincere, emotion—I hope she will be recognized in the awards circuit.

The strong principle cast keeps Catch Me flying and makes up for the turbulence of its storytelling. The format becomes sloppy, as Frank Jr. literally decides to put on a show that depicts his rise and fall. McNally then uses this setup as justification to have Frank Jr. repeatedly address the audience—Frank Jr. tells us how he feels, what he’s thinking, what he’s distressed about. It doesn’t take long for this technique to resemble being spoon-fed. I’m confident that the strength of Tveit’s performance alone would clue the audience in on everything that Frank Jr. is feeling. Furthermore, the “This character went on to do this” speeches at the show’s conclusion felt like an insult to the audience’s intelligence.

Despite a less-than-stellar score, due to its other tricks, Catch Me If You Can is a tightly delivered package of enjoyable musical theater. The show has heart, it caters to what an audience is hoping for, and delivers one of the best casts a ticket buyer is likely to find on Broadway. The one point of proof that the show succeeds? I want to take this flight with Frank Jr. again.

Play: B student rush policy:
Up to two tickets may be purchased for $27 each when the box office opens.

Catch Me If You Can

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catch me if you can broadway musical scene aaron tveit

Photo: Joan Marcus

1 Comment Post a comment
  1. Carlos Alvarado
    Apr 15 2011

    Glad to hear it’s not a total trainwreck. I’m curious about this show. Excited for Kerry Butler. I haven’t seen her in more than a decade. That sounds wierddddddddd!

    Reply

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