BWW Reviews: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is a 'Hunk-a You Betcha'
Currently playing at the Wimberley Players, live and in "Living Color", is the new classic musical CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. This particular production is a delightful showcase of some of the best young talent in the greater Austin area. With a dynamic cast, fantastic band, and nestled in the beautiful Hill Country setting of Wimberley to boot, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is an engaging musical about a teenager with boyish charm, a big imagination and millions in forged checks who successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer -- until an FBI agent catches up with him, and the two form an unlikely friendship.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is a musical written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, featuring a book by Terrence McNally. With a libretto based of the 1980 autobiography of con man Frank Abagnale Junior, the show is structured from the 2002 Dreamworks Motion Picture of the same name, which starred Leonardo DiCaprio. In the popular tradition of screen-to-stage musicals, the production was initially presented in Seattle, Washington for a tryout period in July 2009, and then later opened at Broadway's Neil Simon Theatre in April 2011. The musical received four Tony Awards nominations, including one for Best Musical, winning Best Actor in a Musical for Norbert Leo Butz.
Director Tyler King does a brilliant job with the casting of this particular production; many names and faces are recognizable artists from the Austin music theatre scene, and many of the cast members are local Wimberley favorites, as well. With their combined forces, the company has a strong production and a surprising level of talent.
In the leading role of Frank Abagnale, Jr., Michael Wheeler could not have been more perfect for the role. The character description calls for a young tenor, capable of heavy singing, with a smile that could charm the pants off of a Justice of the Supreme Court. Well, it just so happens that King found his man in Mr. Wheeler, and there is no doubt that this young performer has a very bright future indeed. With his magnificent comedic timing and vibrant vocal timbre, Wheeler is an audience favorite.
The role of FBI agent, Carl Hanratty, is portrayed in all of its magnificent dry comedic glory by Wimberley favorite, Derek Smootz. With a natural ability to satirize the classic Bogartian image of Film Noir, and an excellent flair for his carefully placed one-liners, Smootz tirelessly pursues Frank Jr. while executing his role in such a way that one could see him stepping straight out of film on to the stage. One truly needs to have the skill to properly deliver the line, "It was so hot that my ass was stickin' to the seat like a fly on fly paper." Well-played, sir.
Other strong performances of the evening included Danny Mosier as Franks misguided father, and Meg Steiner as Frank's married-too-young mother, as they paint a picture of the sad broken home that led to Frank's extreme choices in his young life. In the role of Brenda Strong, Alexandra Taylor does an admirable job of playing the classic-yet-antiquated ideal of the young love interest. Ms. Taylor succeeds in adding an edge of contemporary strength and even gets a few choice one-liners herself. Though she tends to struggle with vocal flexibility, the young Ms. Taylor shows potential in the contemporary genre of music theatre.
In the second act, we are introduced to the couple that nearly stole the show. Playing the roles of Brenda's mother and father, Whitney Marlett and David Bisett play Mr. and Mrs. Strong brilliantly. Their musical number, "Our Family Tree" was absolutely hilarious. Ms. Marlett definitely gets the award for the most (and the best) delivery of one-liners of the entire production. "This one's a hunky hunk-a you betcha," "Amen and god**m that was beautiful" are delivered in the most exquisite, half-drunken, Southern manner, and she'll have you rolling in the aisles.
This show requires a very strong team effort, as ensemble members play all supporting roles. I can most certainly say that this was an unusually strong ensemble, and that every single cast member was on point and kept the momentum going. Each performer had lightening-fast comedic timing, and the magic of the production lies within the constant fast exchanges between cast members. (If you've ever seen a good production of Anything Goes or Noises Off, you know exactly what I mean.) As they say, the devil is in the details, and the small interjections and reactions were sublime. (I loved the reappearance in the last scene of Cheryl Ann/Rose Mitchell.) I was amazed with the skill level of the entire ensemble, and they are a big factor in why this production is not to be missed.
One criticism that I have is the fact that no mics are used at any point for this particular production, which can be a bit problematic at times. In ensemble scenes, it is not only taxing for any singer to attempt to sing over the entire chorus without the aid of a mic, but the soloists get vocally buried in these scenes by the ensemble, as well. And audience members seated directly under the band might also find it a bit hard to hear at times. Though this reality is particularly jarring in the beginning of the show with the number "Live in Living Color," one gets used to the lack of mics as the show progresses, as this becomes less noticeable in the scenes that contain solo singing only.
Rachel Hoovler delivers a solid performance in music direction, and the vibrant band is excellent, under the direction of Clifford Bond. The musical style of CATCH ME is jazzy, smooth and lively (think of the film Oceans Eleven, which just so happens to tell the story about successful con men, as well.)
On July 9th, Wimberley Players held a special benefit performance and donated 100% of all ticket sales ($2,444 total) to the Wimberley Flood Relief. Because this is a relatively smaller house, and because I hear the show has been close to selling out nightly, I highly recommend catching this talented young cast while you still can, before the show simply vanishes into thin air without a trace...just like the young Mr. Abagnale.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN will be playing now through August 2nd at The Wimberley Players, 450 Old Kyle Rd, Wimberley, TX 78676. Performances are Friday, July 10th - Sunday, August 2nd, with Fri-Sat evening performances beginning at 7:30pm, and Sunday performances beginning at 2:30pm. Tickets start at $15. For tickets and information, please visit www.wimberleyplayers.org or call (512) 847-0575.