BWW Review: Don't Miss the Dazzling CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at NextStop Theatre Company
The vibe of the swinging sixties, the cat and mouse intrigue, the jazzy score, the witty lyrics - this is the winning combination NextStop Theatre Company has captured for their new and lively production of CATCH ME IF YOU CAN - The Musical. A small physical venue with gobs of creativity and ingenuity, NextStop has turned their intimate theatre space into the set of a television spectacular in living color.
Wait a minute! All Live Theatre events are in living color, you say? Of course, but in the early 1960s, only a select few TV specials got the full color treatment - heck, not that many households had color televisions in 1963. But CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is presented as young Frank Abagnale's vibrant, young man's fantasy of a TV spectacular, complete with the "Frank Abagnale Jr. Orchestra and Dancers."
Abagnale's name might be familiar to fans of the film version of the same story (from 2002) that starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Or you might know the name if you are a history buff and recognize Abagnale as the infamous check forger and identity thief who eluded the FBI while amassing a small personal fortune. The cheeky devil successfully impersonated a Pan-Am co-pilot and a non-practicing physician. The romantic and exciting true story was recorded in Abagnale's autobiography which provided the blueprint for the film.
Capturing the imagination of playwright Terrence McNally, and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the light-hearted adventure film provided the inspiration for the clever musical adaptation that hit Broadway in 2011. Although It only lasted 170 regular performances on the Great White Way, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN captured many fans along the way and is becoming a popular musical title for high schools, colleges and regional theatres. Which brings us to the local professional premiere of the show now on display in fine form at NextStop Theatre's venue in Herndon. I recommend you (go ahead, groan) catch it if you can - I predict a sell-out through October 9.
It is always fascinating to see how a professional theatre using a smaller playing space has
to re-interpret a big, Broadway show. NextStop rarely disappoints. A few seasons ago, their library-inspired set for INTO THE WOODS threw open the imagination and brought a fresh approach to that mash-up of Grimm's fairy tales. This time, providing a fertile playground for Abagnale's fantasy of a TV special, director and set designer Evan Hoffman provides a flexible and playing open space. The dynamic and tight band is placed front and center, not unlike those great TV appearances by Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra or a variety show, the format the show mimics successfully. Geometric, pop-art style set decor completes the homage to the era.
Hoffman has a keen eye for detail and allows the story and characters to remain central to the production, allowing only a handful of furniture pieces and props to enhance the story of Abagnale's rapid ascent into infamy and the chase that was his undoing.
Another element from the old TV specials that works beautifully here is the dancing, provided by the aforementioned "Frank Abagnale Jr. Dancers." and choreographed with all the right moves by Rachel Dolan. The pony, the frug, the shimmy - the dances all the cool kids were doing on HULA-BALOO and the Beach Party movies - look great as performed by the eye-catching troupe of dancers. These ladies are, as no one will deny, easy on the eyes and add a heavy dose of sensuality to the production, which is wholly befitting a musical seen through the eyes of a red-blooded, American teenager of the early 60s.
The fact that young Abagnale was only in his teens when he took off from home for New York City and a life of crime is remarkable. His journey from typical high school student to world-traveling playboy and gadabout fits the musical format very well. Musicals often abbreviate the grimy details, and this one does, but only to move things along so the story can be told by the evocative score and sharp lyrics which sound as if they could have been released by Reprise Records just before the British Invasion. The accomplished pit crew is led by Elisa Roman with crisp tempos and jazzy riffs that would make Count Basie proud.
Taking on the charismatic and central role of Frank Jr, is Matthew Hirsh, for whom the show could have been written. Trim, charming, with boy-next-door-looks, and a wide-eyed innocence, Hirsh carries the leading role with ease. His vocals soar with power and energy; he earns hearty applause for each of his numerous musical turns, starting with "Life in Living Color, and continuing through is 11 o'clock number, "Goodbye." It helps that he looks like a young Kennedy and just enough of a Jimmy Stewart-"ah, shucks!" demeanor that reveals the boy underneath the developing young man.
As Frank Jr.'s foil and number one pursuer, Russell Rinker provides a solid opponent as Special Agent Carl Hanratty of the FBI. Rinker carries himself well as the uptight, workaholic, by-the-book G-man who can barely believe his adversary is just a teen pup and not a hardened professional forger and bunko man. Rinker balances Hanratty's world-weary nature with a sparkling wit, especially when he gets ever closer to apprehending Frank. Hanratty's songs "Don't Break the Rules" and "The Man Inside the Clues" sound great as performed by Rinker's strong baritone.
Providing Frank Jr. with a proper girl-next-door love interest is the excellent Mackenzie Newbury as Brenda, a real nurse to Frank's fake doctor who fall for each other. In spite of his impersonating a real physician, Brenda loves Frank for who he really is, even as his life of crime catches up to him. Newbury's voice aches with beauty as she urges her man to "Fly, Fly Away."
Frank's silver-tongued (and lounge lizard) of a dad, Frank Sr., is portrayed by Doug Sanford. Hirsh and Sanford show the camaraderie and depth of a complicated father-son relationship; they shine in their charm song duet "Butter Out of Cream." Mrs. Abagnale - a WWII bride liberated by Frank Sr. - is a perfect role for Carolyn Burke, one part housewife, one part vixen and heaping dose of chanteuse.
I will reprise my original suggestion: take the red-eye flight to get advance tickets for CATCH ME IF YOU CAN. Between the bountiful cheesecake, strong performers, and memorable tunes, this is a ring-a-ding-ding musical that deserves to sell out.
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN continues at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon, VA 20170. OvationTix 866.811.4111.
Photo Credit: Traci J. Brooks Studio