The new Broadway musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg film of the same name, boasts a Tony Award winning dream team of creative talent and an array of new pop/jazz tunes by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the songwriters behind the long running hit Broadway musical “Hairspray.” Their energetic swinging score reminiscent of the 1960’s is an absolute delight, along with the terrific orchestrations by Marc Shaiman and Larry Blank. Add sexy choreography by Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray) featuring leggy chorus girls in little skirts and big hair, throw in a book by Tony Award winning playwright Terrence McNally, let Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels) direct and tell the tale in flashback like a 1960’s variety show with the orchestra sitting right on stage. Viola, a hit new Broadway musical, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN!
The story inspired by the true adventures of Frank Abagnale Jr, a world class con artist avoiding FBI capture for several years, was played on film by Leonardo DiCaprio, in a role that was probably one of his finest performances. Here the jet-setting Frank is played solidly by Aaron Tveit of NEXT TO NORMAL fame. Frank passes himself off as a doctor, a lawyer, and a jet pilot – all before the age of 21 -dodging the hot pursuit of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, portrayed brilliantly in the new musical by Norbert Leo Butz, a Tony Winner for “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” Frank manages to stay one step ahead of Carl, until love catches up with him in the form of Brenda Strong, nicely rendered by Kerry Butler.
Everything looks and sounds wonderful, but nothing really comes to life until midway through the first act when Norbert Leo Butz practically stops the show with “Don’t Break the Rules.” For the first time there is a sense of excitement that has been missing and we get a truly rousing production number with the fantastic Butz at the center. The invaluable Butz turns Carl into a marvelous Columbo-like character (played by Peter Falk in the 1970’s television series), but his detective sings and dances in character without missing a beat giving a bravura star turn that is simply delicious. And he is back again in the second act on a buddy number with Tveit, “Strange but True,” which brings needed zing.
There seems to be a couple of things keeping the evening from soaring. The variety show gimmick, which on paper might seem cute, seems to suck the life out of the show, despite the fact there is much to like here, even outstanding about CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. The conceit appears to strip the musical of momentum, and unfortunately the cat and mouse chase that ought to be filled with twists and turns offers few surprises. Although the idea is a nice device to move the musical through a series of locations, the concept adds little to the accumulated storyline and the evening becomes rather neat and predictable. The other factor at play is the gifted Aaron Tveit has a scrubbed clean boy next door image and he needs a little devil in him, mischievousness that he is taking a thrilling ride and the delight in knowing. The talented Tveit just doesn’t possess that sort of charisma.
In this CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, the FBI agent is the most wanted and the musical feels like a poor man’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
By Patrick Christiano
Catch Me if You Can opened on April 10, 2011 on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street, in New York. For tickets call Ticketmaster.com/877-250-2929 or visit the box office. For more information visit www.catchmethemusical.com
Photos: Joan Marcus