The story of a youthful con artist, staying one step ahead of the law, living by his wits, naïve and fearless, is a great story. In the hands of accomplished writers, it transfers to the musical theater genre surprisingly well. “Catch Me If You Can,” running this week at the Orpheum Theater, is set intermittently at Christmas time, and so contributes an appealing twist in this year’s holiday offerings. If you are interested in a feel-good show without the candy canes and santa hats, I’d say this one is a match.
But this show is not so much about Frank Abagnale Jr.’s now famous exploits (thanks to the popular movie). This is about a kid torn apart by his parent’s divorce, and his desperate attempts to rescue his dad and get them all back together. To tell this story required bending the facts, but it was a good call. The writers also chose to compress the timeframe to keep him a boy, which strengthens the story with his father-figure pursuer, Agent Carl Hanratty (Merritt David Janes).
Stephen Anthony plays the youthful scammer not as a devious delinquent, but rather as a kid who more or less falls into one lie after another in his scramble to survive, and somehow save his family. Anthony balanced the child-character’s innocence with “getting what you can,” as preached by his father, with great finesse. And he has a buttery voice, and warm and natural acting style.
If you’re going to write a musical, you need plenty of singing, at least, paired with dancing, if possible. Many of the production numbers really worked. “Don’t Break the Rules,” a hot number fronted by Hanratty had crackle and grit, and Janes was clearly in command. In fact, that might be the best number in the show. Janes’ duet, “Little Boy, Be a Man,” with Frank’s father, played memorably by Dominic Fortuna, did exactly what a song like that should do in musical. We got to know the three main characters a whole lot better, and we were entertained by a dynamite performance.
But some of the excuses for song and dance were a little flimsy, which took me out of the building story between Hanratty and Frank. I’d put “My Favorite Time of Year” in that category. It dropped the ensemble on the stage in yet another variation of their costumes, suddenly singing a Christmas tune. We needed to get to the end of it because of its final revelation, but the transition from Janes’ terrific “The Man Inside the Clues” didn’t do him justice.
Unfortunately, the writers also found it necessary to include the all-but-required “protagonist-falls-in-love-with-innocent ingénue” angle. Aubrey Mae Davis as love-interest Brenda is a powerful singer and fine performer—I really appreciated her rich low range, after lots of high frequency singing—but we just didn’t need it. The transition into Frank’s visit to her parents faltered, the scene itself felt manufactured (as indeed it was) and it interrupted the better story brewing among Frank, his father and Hanratty. This particular song-and-dance, “Family Tree,” was amusing, but that’s about it.
Nevertheless, as I said, it’s a good story and mostly solid writing. As a Broadway touring production, you can be sure of top-notch musicians, a very busy ensemble with great depth and variety, and a spectacle worthy of the season. Enjoy!
It runs through just through Dec. 16.