BWW Reviews: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Uptown Players
Famous con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. managed to pass himself off as a pilot, an ER doctor and a lawyer between the ages of 15-21 before finally getting caught. Although he never tried his hand as an actor, Frank Jr.'s biography, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, created dramatic opportunities for two other young stars, first on-screen with Leonardo DiCaprio, and later on Broadway with Aaron Tveit. Although the Broadway producers failed to find the financial (and critical) success that Abagnale and the film producers celebrated (closing after only 6 months), the musical launched a non-union production, which toured the US for another 7 months before rights were released to regional theatres. Now, marking its local debut, Uptown Players' new production is here - and it definitely makes the most of the musical's victories to create a fantastic opportunity for another star in our midst.
A gunshot rings out and the musical begins in the Miami International Airport as Frank Jr. is being arrested for his famous crimes. Resisting arrest, Frank Jr. calls for the spotlight, turning the capture into a musical tell-all, full of Vegas production numbers and a 60's game-show feel. Songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (best known for their other 1960's musical, HAIRSPRAY), have written a catchy, yet somewhat imbalanced score this time around, but there are still a handful of standout songs including "Life in Living Color," "Fly, Fly Away," "Goodbye" and "Doctor's Orders."
In addition to passing himself off as a "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief," the actor playing the leading role has to sell his abilities as a triple-threat talent, as he's featured in eleven of the show's nonstop production numbers. Fortunately, Uptown Players has all this - and more - in Anthony Fortino, whose youthful charisma and Tiger Beat looks are a perfect fit for Frank. Although Fortino has appeared recently in local productions of SOUTH PACIFIC, BONNIE AND CLYDE and FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, his epic pop vocals were quite the surprise, compared to his more traditional roles. "Catching" this future star's performance will provide local audiences the opportunity to say "I saw him when..."
One criticism I had of the Broadway production in 2011 was the writing of the FBI agent, Carl Hanratty (played on screen by Tom Hanks). In the musical, Carl becomes an over-the-top caricature (performed on Broadway by Nobert Leo Butz, who won a Tony Award for the role). While the role produces a great vehicle for a comedic actor to break up to action, Carl doesn't always fit in a show full of otherwise realistic characters. Still, as Frank Jr.'s rival, Christopher Curtis excels as the musicalized FBI Agent. With equal talents of physical comedy and a clear tenor voice, Curtis is a great match for Fortino.
They are not the only two who shine, however. Maranda Harrison's youthful looks and sincere approach prove ideal for Brenda Strong, Frank Jr.'s first-and-only true female companion. Actress Shelby Ringdahl also deserves praise, not only for her cameo as Cheryl Ann, but for her show-stopping vocal performance as a featured nurse, singing "Doctor's Orders" with a half-dozen of her sassy and sexy companions.
With the exception of two adult actors, the talented company at Uptown Players appears to be full of college-aged gypsies. Although this works well for the long-legged and attractive ensemble, it did create some forced suspension of disbelief to buy into the relationships between Frank Jr. and his parents (the skilled duo of Sarah Powell and David Lugo). Also, the father-and-son relationship that is typically found between Frank Jr. and Hanratty is weakened, forcing Fortino to fight harder to make Frank Jr. likable.
Director Cheryl Denson keeps the nonstop show moving seamlessly. The same can be said for choreographer Ann Nieman, who fills the stage with high kicks and even higher energy throughout the show. Costumes (rented from the show's national touring company), and scenery designed by Rodney Dobbs (based heavily on the Broadway set), create the perfect details for the many people, places and things jam-packed into Terrance McNally's busy script. Kudos to Michael Albee for not only performing as ensemble/dance captain, but for creating video projections used through the show to enhance scenery and 25+ locations.
There are many reason's to see Uptown Players' CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, but Anthony Fortino's energetic, entrancing performance is at the top of that long list. Performances continue through August 9th at the Kalita Humphreys Theatre. For more details, visit www.UptownPlayers.org or call 214-219-2718.