In the musical Catch Me if you Can at the Moonlight Amphitheatre, young Frank Abagnale tells his story of deception and family dysfunction with the glitz of a 1960s TV variety show. Loaded with satire, flashy dance numbers and plot-developing songs quench our thirst for the boozy, smoky Rat Pack era. Knowing that this portrait of an elusive con artist and his overworked pursuer is true is an extra kick.
In the opening scene, Frank gets busted by the FBI in the Miami airport and boom – we are caught up in his flashback – to the days of beehive hair dos and martini lunches. The NBC peacock logo appears, and like an “American Idol” finalist, Frank, portrayed by Jacob Haren, belts out the tune “Live in Living Color” as leggy dancers in tight white pants wiggle their middles.
Haren grew up on the Moonlight stage and clearly enjoys playing the young scammer who just wants to go home. As Frank Jr., Haren’s a tan, athletic charmer with the mixed up moral compass of a kid. In contrast, his nemesis, the obsessed FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Josh Adamson) is pale and hunched over. He steals the show with “Don’t Break the Rules,” about his lifelong plan to be a cop. His fellow agents are dim bunglers in bad suits and reminders of old cop shows.
Agent Hanratty says Abagnale’s ability to “pull myth from manure is impressive,” and so is their adversarial yet respectful relationship. In real life, they remain friends. The show within a show structure is fun and pushes the idea that Frank’s life has been a fraud, so why stop pretending now?
Frank Abagnale Jr. was a globe-trotting forger and impersonator, so skilled that Steven Spielberg made a movie based on his autobiography. He stole millions by rerouting checks, and he posed as a Pan American pilot, a pediatric doctor, and a lawyer – all before he turned 21. Spielberg’s film starred Leonardo DiCaprio as the boy criminal and Tom Hanks as the over-worked FBI agent on the hunt for the elusive “paper hanger.”
The musical, crafted by the team who did Hairspray, feels more sardonic than the film, and bubbles over with old TV ingredients: the Indian-head test pattern, go-go girls and guys, a hilarious live commercial with young ladies dressed as items used in the art of forgery, and playful nurses.
Heather Lundstedt as Brenda, young Frank’s favorite nurse and temporary wife, does not show her true colors till the end. She gives the crowd an unexpected dose of grinding blues in “Fly, Fly Away.” She also has one of the funniest lines: “You’re not a Lutheran, Frank?” Her southern parents, portrayed by Moonlight darlings Ralph Johnson and Karla J. Franko, have some zingers too, but come across as grandparents because of too-old costumes and aging posture.
Robert Neary as Frank Abagnale Sr. is the drunk that every family tries to avoid. His smooth voice echoes Billy Joel and Sinatra, and he shines in several songs such as, “Butter Outta Cream,” and “Little Boy, Be a Man.” When he falls off his bar stool, you’ll gasp. Tracy Lore brings a German flair to the French expat Mrs. Abagnale, which I took as a nod to Madeline Kahn’s Lili Von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles.
Splendidly directed by Larry Raben, Catch Me turns the stage into an old TV but keeps the chase moving with surprising momentum. It’s as if footage of Dean Martin and his Golddiggers got chopped up with “Hullabaloo” and “Dragnet.” Mitch Miller makes an appearance, but don’t let his lounge lizard style scare you. The dancing is saucy and smooth.
Choreographer Karl Warden gets huge points for evoking the groovy, twisty “Hullabaloo” styles of the time. We can assume he watched a few clips from the show. The chorus line section in pale blue Pan Am costuming is spot on, both crisp and animated. And where did they find those little Pan Am tote bags? Swoon. Warden danced in the original Broadway production and brings a dancer’s quick twitch to the production. Elan McMahan’s musical direction is sparkling.
You have to give artistic director Steve Glaudini credit for presenting Catch Me when credit card fraud is rampant, and we are crazy for all things post-modern. Thank you “Mad Men” TV show. Today, the real Frank Abagnale is an expert on fighting forgery, fraud, and cyber crime schemes. For him and the musical, crime does pay.