“They all make mistakes.” That’s what FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (a beleaguered Norbert Leo Butz) repeatedly states while pursuing teenage con man and counterfeiter Frank Abagnale, Jr. (handsome but lackluster Aaron Tveit) cross country until the final capture which opens the new musical Catch Me If You Can based on the Steven Spielberg motion picture of the same name.
Unfortunately, the A-list team behind this mostly dull and unengaging production seems to have made plenty of their own mistakes. Starting with the premise that all hit movies can be turned into hit musicals. Some motion pictures should rest on their laurels and remain on the silver screen. Catch Me If You Can being one of them.
These are the same people who brought to vivid and hysterical life Hairspray. Director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell, costume designer William Ivey Long and Scott Wittman (lyrics) & Marc Shaiman (lyrics & music). It seems that they all got off on the wrong foot here with their concept of presenting Abagnale’s story within the framework of a cheesy 60’s Variety show reminiscent of Hullabaloo with an onstage orchestra which doesn’t help but hinders.
I thought Aaron Tveit was destined for Broadway stardom after seeing him in Next to Normal. Here, only his voice shines through this unlikable character. Telling us the story of how he swindled everyone – pretending to be a pilot, a doctor (who can’t stand the sight of blood) and a lawyer – Terrance McNally (book) has him instructing others in how to be a successful crook – smiling and winking at the audience whenever he pulls off a successful scam. Much like J. Pierrepont Finch (Daniel Radcliffe) in How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. It doesn’t work for either one of them although the audience eats it up like a Magnolia cupcake.
That’s just part of his story. “Like father, like son” could be a subtitle. His dad, Frank Sr. – a wonderful Tom Wopat – encourages his crime spree and we see the dire straights that he winds up in. His French mom Paula (Rachel de Benedet) leaves him for his best friend so that she can make a better life for herself which Frank Jr. has trouble getting over. She has a lovely duet with her estranged husband “Don’t Be a Stranger”.
The rest of the score is hard to remember with the exception of “Fly, Fly Away” sung by the girl friend of Frank, Brenda Strong (Kerry Butler) which is a power ballad that seems lifted from Wicked and the much reprised opening number “Live in Living Color” where the costumes are all white.
When a minor character, the mother of Brenda (a terrific Linda Hart) takes over the proceedings something is amiss.
If I seem to be rambling it’s because that what Catch Me If You Can does. It rambles along. Bringing on the babes in short mini skirts as Stewardesses and Nurses for the tired businessman who disappeared with the double martini lunch.
The FBI agents are not the brightest bunch of people in charge. Norbert Leo Butz does his best to amuse but he is so self aware of his amusement that it hardly matters.
Both Tveit and Butz redeem themselves with their final handcuffed duet, “Strange But True”.
There is a final coda that explains what happened to one and all which when you leave for home you will not be humming.
NOTE: Jay Armstrong Johnson who was a magnificent Floyd Collins in an NYU production is standby for Aaron Tveit. I can only imagine what he would do with the role.
www.catchmethemusical.com At the Neil Simon Theatre. Photo: Joan Marcus
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