PHOTOGRAPHY: CAROL ROSEGG
Any way you tell it, the story of Frank Abagnale is a jaw-dropping twist on the eternal pursuit of the American Dream. By the time he was 21, Abagnale had logged over a million miles as a pilot for Pan Am, passed the bar in Louisiana, served as chief resident at a hospital in Georgia, and kited over a million dollars in checks. The thing is, Abagnale was neither doctor, attorney, nor pilot. He was simply—or rather, quite complexly—a prodigious con man. He makes Don Draper look like a rank amateur.
With the first-rate touring production of Catch Me if You Can, the trio of Terrence McNally (book and lyrics), Marc Shaiman (music) and Scott Wittman (lyrics) have crafted a groovy take on the life Abagnale, following his exploits from a broken hearted, comic-book obsessed teenager to a jet-setting ladies’ man. Set in the mid-1960s, the piece has the psychedelic look of a Laugh-In set and the bopping energy of an episode of Hullabaloo.
Directed by Jack O’Brien and backed by lighting designer Kenneth Posner’s pulsing displays of comic-bright primary colors, the core strength of Catch Me if You Can lies in its endearing leads. As Frank, Stephen Anthony evokes the shy, sweet immaturity of a misfit high schooler and the suave, swinging swagger of a man at the top of his game. He captures both the innocence that makes women want to mother him and the hep cat confidence that makes them want to sleep with him (the latter is sizzlingly apparent in the vampy, campy “Doctor’s’ Orders.”)
Moreover, Anthony has the clarion pipes of a true tenor. His 11th hour “Good-Bye” is a booming, operatic ode to the high life. He’s ably matched by Merritt David Janes as dogged FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, a gruff loner prone to barking out pathetic/hilarious epithets such as “[there’s] more bum checks than in a Prague prison” and “I’ll be on you like a hobo on a ham sandwich.” Both archetype and fully fleshed character, Janes’s Hanratty is also a delightful song ‘n dance man hoofing his way through the show with the deadpan charisma of Joe Friday and Fred Astaire flair.
Speaking of flair: Aubrey Mae Davis, as Frank’s fiancé Brenda, is the highlight of act two with a song called “I Want," the essential, late-in-the-game belting tune where the leading lady lets loose. Davis delivers the goods with enough power and glory to take the show home, soaring through the sustained money notes until the theater seems to swell with cathartic desire. She entirely captures the intense drive that propels the interminable quest for the American Dream.
Catch Me If You Can is fueled by cat-and-mouse games and Jerry Mitchell’s bopping choreography and Bonniol’s flashy blinking backdrops heighten the stark contrasts. With killer performances, big budget sets, and an ensemble of curvaceous stewardesses/nurses/trench-coated noir-inspired detectives, what’s not to like?
Make sure to catch this one before it leaves Chicago on April 14.
Catch Me if You Can plays at the Cadillac Palace Theatre through April 14. Tickets start at $18.