BWW Reviews: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Lands At TPAC With High-Flying Style

January 24
10:58 AM 2013


Can you just imagine the things Frank Abagnale Jr. could do if he were an enterprising teenager in the 21st Century? The charming, conniving and cunning young man would likely rule the world. But, barring the creation of a time machine (and I don't see that happening anytime soon) to upend the space/time continuum, we must content ourselves to learning more about the man and his motivations via Catch Me If You Can, the high-spirited and just-plain-fun musical now onstage at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall through Sunday, January 27.

Based on the Dreamworks motion picture that starred Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, the stage version hews pretty closely to the story as we know it, thanks to Terrence McNally's spot-on book and terrific music by Marc Shaiman-with clever lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman-that perfectly captures the early 1960s zeitgeist in tone and delivery. The show's Broadway run might have been disappointing to the show's creative team, producers and its loyal fan following, but you can rest assured that it will live on for years to come in the countless regional, community and college productions that will be upcoming.

Stylistically, Catch Me If You Can has a period flavor to augment its clear and compelling storyline and intriguing characters, all of whom come alive under the imaginative direction of Jack O'Brien, whose vision remains intact in the touring company's version. Meanwhile, Jerry Mitchell's wonderfully evocative choreography-with all its Las Vegas-infused flair and jaw-dropping Broadway skill that is performed by a bevy or gorgeous showgirls and handsome chorus boys-helps to elevate the material beyond all expectations.

With a fresh-faced cast of young actors, who are given ample support by the more seasoned actors in the cast, the characters are winningly portrayed, making them completely accessible and all the more attractive. You're hard-pressed not to fall under the thrall of Frank Jr.'s mesmerizing charm, his ability to spin a yarn off the cuff dazzling you in the process.

Clearly, Stephen Anthony (playing Abagnale) has tremendous stage presence, riveting your attention from his very first appearance onstage-and he manages to keep you interested throughout the show's two acts, which are presented as a televised spectacle, circa mid-1960s, in a quick-moving manner that propels the action ever forward. Anthony's broad smile and ability to sell a song ensures that you're on Frank Jr.'s side even when you know he's a manipulative scofflaw. His interactions with his co-stars, particularly Dominic Fortuna as his father, Frank Sr., and Aubrey Mae Davis as his sweetheart Brenda Strong, gives Anthony the opportunity to add more color and shading to his portrayal that, again, makes Frank all the more accessible.


Playing opposite Anthony as Carl Hanratty-the dogged and determined G-man who is the Javert to Abagnale's Jean Valjean-the multi-talented Merritt David Janes shows off his own considerable talents (and more than a little charm himself) as he pursues an end to Abagnale's nefarious schemes. Janes imbues Carl with a hint of pathos that makes his determination all the more palatable, winning over legions of his own fans.

As song and dance men-and make no mistake about it, both Anthony and Janes personify that Broadway ideal-the two leading men are nothing short of spectacular. Anthony's youthful mien makes him totally believable as a 16-year-old boy pretending to be older and more experienced, while Janes' unsmiling diffidence are the very picture of a more mature character. But when they sing, they take us to a different level of entertainment, their gorgeous voices giving the Shaiman/Wittman score and lyrics their due in the process. Anthony's performance of "Good-Bye," the show's penultimate number, is likely to leave you misty-eyed and the show's final number ("Strange But True") showcases both men in a recap of what comes after "the end."

Among the supporting cast, both Fortuna and Davis are impressive. Fortuna is the devil-may-care, sort of arrogant dad that you may have imagined yours to be, which makes his eventual downfall more heartrending and emotional for the audiencE. Davis, playing the love of young Frank Jr.'s life, brings a sense of realism to her role, and in her performance of the show's 11 o'clock number ("Fly, Fly Away"), she shows us her ability to completely command the stage with a gospel-tinged fervor that is startling.

BWW Reviews: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN Lands At TPAC With High-Flying Style

Caitlin Maloney is appropriately French as Paula, Frank Jr.'s rather distant buT Loving mother, and Amy Burgmaier and D. Scott Withers are ideally cast as Brenda's Louisiana-born and bred parents. Burgmaier very nearly steals the show with her comic performance. The supporting cast also includes recent Belmont University musical theatre grad Ben Laxton (whom last we saw as the dashing Bob Martin in The Drowsy Chaperone at the Troutt Theatre), one of the understudies for the role of Frank Jr., is given a good showcase and does his friends, family and teachers proud with his strong performance.

David Rockwell's exquisite scenic design gives the entire Jackson Hall stage the look of a 1960s-era television soundstage and gives Catch Me If You Can much of its visual appeal, while William Ivey Long's gorgeous costumes clothe the actors in perfect Mad Men/Pam Am style, all of which is spotlighted by Kenneth Posner's terrific lighting design.

Music director Matthew Smedal and his orchestra-who are onstage thanks to Rockwell's inventive design-perform the score with confidence and impressive musicality.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors - the history of which can be traced to 1989 and the first presentation of The First Night Awards - which honor outstanding theater artisans from Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and also includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors recognition. Midwinter's First Night honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. An accomplished director, Ellis helmed productions of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, all in their Nashville premieres, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show. Ellis was recognized by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror. In 2015, he directed William Inge's Picnic for Circle Players and Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years for VWA Theatricals, with The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of Beth Henley's The Miss Firecracker Contest set for spring 2016.

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