CATCH ME IF YOU CAN
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN, LPD in association with Hayes Theatre Co at Hayes Theatre, from 20 July 2019. Photography by Robert Catto: above - Jake Speer and pals; below - Simon Burke and Speer; below again - Tim Draxl and G-Men
From the sparkling opening, Catch Me If You Can has “Huge Hit” written all over it. It’s impossible not to be caught up in the fun, wowed by the pizazz, dazzled by the company and won over by this most unlikely of true stories.
In the 1970s, young and charming Frank Abagnale Jr (Jake Speer) inadvertently discovers, through his older yet equally charming dad, Frank Sr (Simon Burke) a talent for the con. Over the next seven years he leads his nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tim Draxl) on a merry dance.
Frank Jr is always several steps ahead of the increasingly obsessed G-Man. He takes Hanratty and the audience through a couple of hours of the best musical theatre fun imaginable.
Catch Me If You Can first saw an audience in Seattle in 2009. A Broadway opening happened in 2011. It was moderately successful, running five months to “mixed reviews”. Perhaps its time has now come, or it’s that this production – cast and creative team – is also spectacularly good; either way it’s wonderful.
And you can set aside fond memories of di Caprio and Hanks in the 2002 movie, because Draxl and Speer are not only as appealing as both Hollywood stars, but also they sing. Oh my, how they sing! Their story is based on the 1980 tell-all book, written by Abagnale Jr and a co-author of whom he said, “He was just telling a story and not writing my biography”.
Nevertheless, the real story is easily as astonishing as the show. By the time he was arrested in France, Abagnale Jr was a wanted man in 12 countries. He served time in France, was deported to Sweden, went to trial and was sentenced. Then Italy put up its hand for him, but the ever reasonable Swedes persuaded US authorities to revoke his passport. It rendered him stateless and Sweden had to deport him directly to the USA!
Hanratty finally had his day and Abagnale Jr served (a bit of) his sentence. He went on to work for the FBI in foiling cons and fraudsters and to have a successful business as a security consultant. Mind-boggling, isn’t it?
Director and choreographer Cameron Mitchell has brilliantly stripped away anything that could confuse or delay and the cast of 13 – principals and ensemble – have the entire space of the Hayes to play on. A few carry-on, carry-off quasi building blocks fill in for any and all furnishings; the back wall is a dark abstraction of distorting mirror panels and a proscenium arch is the main source of atmosphere with an ever-changing strip of ’70s Vegas niterie lights – pre-LED and CGI of course. The simplicity is matched by the effectiveness of the set design: Kelsey Lee, and lighting: Jasmine Rizk.
The costumes, too, are remarkable. Christine Mutton has, for instance, plundered the colour and shape palettes of the late 20th century to bring to life the sexy Pan Am crews – pillbox hats and sky blue suits for the “air hostesses” and gold-braided testosterone for the pilots. And the sugared-almond hues of the dolly birds and go-go dancers are also hilariously perfect.
The book, by Terrance McNally, is consistently on the pulse, as are Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman’s lyrics. While the sense of time and place is tangible and enhanced by the perfect pastiche of a score by Shaiman. The all-round excellence is completed by the band – hidden behind the back wall. They – musical director Anthony Cutrupi, bassist Amanda Jenkins, drummer Tom McCracken, guitarist Michael Napoli and reeds virtuoso, Abi McCunn – fill the auditorium with an outstanding rendering of the score. And it’s huge: from Sinatra-style big band power – for a smoothly-crooning Simon Burke – through to sax-driven ’80s power ballads, some jazzy scat for seasoning and the sheer joie de vivre of classic musical theatre chorus tunes to top it off.
In a uniformly first rate cast – led by the fabulous Speer, Draxl and Burke – there are stand-outs. Frank Jr’s mama, and daddy’s war-time love and French chanteuse, is given sultry une uncertain regard by Penny Martin. She and Burke re-emerge as Frank Jr’s girlfriend’s Southern Gothic parents. You can almost smell the mint juleps.
The Southern belle girlfriend is gorgeously played by Jessica di Costa and she makes the most of her poignant, Celine Dion-ish solo, “Fly, Fly Away” when her lover skedaddles just ahead of Agent Hanratty having confessed that he isn’t the lawyer she thought he was, and isn’t even “Frank Connors” either.
In essence – get to the Hayes, quick smart. Recommended without reservation.