Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Saturday 28th May 2016

Frank William Abagnale, Jr. the son of an American GI and a French woman, Paulette (Paula in the musical), entered on a life of crime when he was fifteen, stealing from his father, then left home at sixteen to spend the next five years as a con artist, pursued by the FBI all over the world. His story was told in the book Catch Me If You Can, which was made into a film from which this musical was adapted. Because of Paulette's infidelity, his parents separated when he was twelve and divorced when he was fourteen, yet his home life had been stable up to that point. The marriage breakdown up set him and he ran away from home.

Leaving home, he began by setting up bank accounts and borrowing to the extent of his credit limit, moving on to other banks and inventing different names, and doing it all again, going on to forge cheques, and other tricks. Another name change and he went on to work as a relief teacher, as a paediatrician, a lawyer, and an airline co-pilot. He was pursued by FBI agent, Joseph Shea, on whom the character of Carl Hanratty in this musical is primarily based.

Director, Charissa McCluskey-Garcia, musical director, Ben Stefanoff, and choreographers, Rachel Dow and Rebekah Stonelake, had a marvellous start to this production, with this musical boasting a book by Terrence McNally and a sensational score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. On top of that they have assembled a most impressive cast, and a crew who are right on the ball.

Jason Bensen is perfect as the flamboyant teenager, Frank Abagnale, Jr., captivating the audience from start to finish. He develops his character with skill as he goes from a light-hearted approach to his new lifestyle, with plenty of comedy, through to some poignant moments, such as his telephone call to Hanratty on Christmas Day, to an inevitable conclusion.

David MacGillivray plays his nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty, convincing as a man married to his work and determined to catch his quarry. MacGillivray invests the special agent with human strengths and weaknesses, in a nicely measured performance.

Bensen and MacGillivray begin with their characters diametrically opposed and then, through gradual, well-considered character development, show how a mutual respect develops, leading to an understanding and an eventual friendship.

There are a good many secondary roles, and a full ensemble. Much as one might want to discuss each actor in their role there are just too many. Suffice to say, though, that there are nothing but highly commendable performances from each of them.

Charissa McCluskey-Garcia's smart set works well and is enhanced by added projections by Ben Todd, Emily Barroclough, and Jason Bensen, with effective lighting by Rodney Bates.

The production is filled with big numbers that swing like mad and involve the ensemble in some elaborate footwork, and it is impossible to refrain from tapping toes. This is high-paced and energetic production that had the audience laughing and applauding right through, and especially so for the final bows.

Had it not been for a rather dodgy trumpeter, and a couple of slow set changes, one could very easily have thought that this was a fully professional production. What a pity that we can't pack it all up at the end of this run and send it off on a national tour.

Photo: Mark Anolak

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