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Catch Me If You Can at 5th Ave. off to a strong start
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Catch Me If You Can at 5th Ave. off to a strong start

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Catch Me If You Can
5th Avenue Theatre
Through August 16


The new musical Catch Me if You Can opened in Seattle this week for a pre-Broadway trial, and it will have no problems getting there. The musical is based on the hit film by DreamWorks, which is based on the original autobiographical book by Frank Abagnale, Jr., and the stage show continues the successful saga. The story is about an extremely charming young man in the 1960s who becomes one of the greatest conmen and identity thieves in history, forging his way through being an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer, among other careers, all without being found out. The cast is stellar, boasting names from television and Broadway alike, and the simplistic staging of the scenery works by not being overbearing and allowing the actors to be the stars of the show.

Television and Broadway veteran Tom Wopat (Annie Get Your Gun) plays Frank Abagnale, Sr., the father of the main character. His voice is deeply soothing and his singing is smooth. Its rich and hints at soft crooning. The songs are delivered well. Norbert Leo Butz (Wicked) plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, made famous on screen by Tom Hanks. Norbert does a good job, but fails to fully capture the stage presence he has shown in the past. His comic timing and vocal talents come through, as if to say teasingly, I can do this, just wait. His opening patter song, Here I Am (To Save The Day) is a tongue-tripping, fast-paced rhyming song that Norbert delivers at top speed with complete enunciation. Unfortunately, the theaters microphones tended to muffle the clarity, and one had to listen closely to understand the songs quickened nature. The situation was (somewhat) corrected during the second half of the song. The character comes across as a partly broken Lieutenant Columbo and part Joe Friday; a mixture of shuffling walks and stooped behavior with a dry comedic delivery. We get the feeling Agent Hanratty is supposed to be on the opposing side of the law while still paralleling his nemesis, though he instead comes across as the polar opposite of the happy-go-lucky youth. Even the lighting shows Hanratty in noir colors while Abagnale is surrounded by color and light.

The two main stars are Kerry Butler and Aaron Tveit. Aaron Tveit is Frank Abagnale, Jr., who not only takes the role from preceding film star Leonardo Dicaprio, but also makes it his own with completely different dimensions. Aaron is a great singer  theres no question about that and it only goes to show why he was nominated for the 2009 Tony Award (Next to Normal). His voice is easily understood and ranges from simple presentation to belting out in a charming way. In fact, his entire characters personality is charming. Aarons performance was pleasing to all the senses and he seems on his way to being the next big thing, but he needs to grow into the part. Thats what out of town tryouts is about, and by the time his comfort level in the role is completed, sustenance will be provided.

The role of love interest Brenda Strong is played by Kerry Butler. A Tony nomination for Xanadu and credits of Little Shop of Horrors, Hairspray and Bat Boy, the Musical have all given her the experience that she shares with her audience. From the moment she walks on stage she holds attention without ever trying. Her character is mousy but the audiences eyes immediately gravitate in her direction. Her eleven oclock number, Fly, Fly Away, is incredible. Smartly, the stage is kept simplistic with a simple spotlight that allows the song  and singer  to shine. With music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman (and life-partner Marc Shaiman), this is obviously the breakaway number that defines the show.

While the music and lyrics are definitely light and enjoyable, they become characters, as they definitely should in a musical production. These characters take on life of their own, showing range and depth from lighthearted brevity (Doctors Orders) to the sentimental (Seven Wonders). The trouble is that sometimes these characters become too familiar, even reminiscent of songs and scenes from Hairspray. Then I remembered that most of this team created that show, also, and if something works, stick with it. Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!) adapted the film for the stage. The story flows without any gaps or wondering at any of the characters actions. Its strong and connective between the characters themselves and the audience thats observing them.

Catch Me If You Can definitely needs some more work  its almost there, but not quite. Given the time they have, they should be able to get it worked out. With direction by Jack OBrien (Hairspray), choreography by Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Legally Blonde) and costumes by Bob Mackie, there is as much talent behind the scenes as on stage. With what has been announced to be opening on the Great White Way, Catch Me if You Can shows promise for a healthy Broadway run. Catch it while you can.

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