NYC: "Catch Me If You Can" reviewed

July 21, 2011
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In addition to the enormous pleasure of the show itself, the Broadway musical version of “Catch Me If You Can” left me sympathetic to those of you who might read a review I’ve written and find yourself questioning my sanity. (After writing what follows, I dug out commentary from The New York Times and elsewhere and found myself baffled as to why so much scorn has been heaped on a show that should be hailed as one of the best new Broadway musicals in years.)

Where to start? The A-plus-list creative team includes Marc Shaiman (“Hairspray”) and Scott Wittman, who have crafted a toe-tapping score that made me want to rush out afterward and grab the disc. (Of course, I resisted paying the jacked-up price of lobby-sold CDs.) The songs are neatly blended with a character-driven book by Terrence McNally (“Ragtime”). John McDaniel, former music director for “The Rosie O’Donnell Show”—and a past guest with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra for Symphony on the Prairie—leads a swinging on-stage orchestra, and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Hairspray,” “Legally Blonde”) effectively gives every number its own, unique life while keeping all integrated into the whole.

The cast is suburb, led by Aaron Tveit. As real-life con-artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (played on screen by Leonardo DiCaprio), Tveit finds an ideal balance of cockiness and neediness, making clear both the kick and the loneliness that come from his scam-filled life. A lesser actor could have gotten lost in the smugness—when you’re dancing with a kick-line of leggy stewardesses, that’s a real trap. But Tveit, a solid actor as well as an outstanding singer and dancer, gives the piece the through-line it needs.

His performance impresses even more when you consider the talent he’s sharing the stage with. First, there’s Tony-winner Norbert Leo Butz, late of “Wicked,” “The Last Five Years” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.” In short, Butz is one of the most entertaining guys I’ve ever seen on stage, a beyond-triple-threat who can stay in character as a dumpy, dull FBI agent and still turn his big song-and-dance number, “Don’t Break the Rules,” into a show stopper.

And then there’s Kerry Butler (“Xanadu”) giving her vocal-all in the supporting role of Brenda Strong, a nurse who helps lead Abagnale to both his downfall and his salvation—and finds her own happiness in the process.

If "Catch Me If You Can" didn't arrive on Broadway in the year as the blockbuster "The Book of Mormon," I'm confident that it would have been the Tony-winning Best Musical. As it stands, though, it's the one show from my New York trip that I'm telling everyone from my brother in New Jersey to Broadway-bound Hoosiers to definately catch.

Your thoughts?

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  • Trendy 60s Theme Doesn't Save This Show
    Tveit's Abagnale was just flat, and it felt like a one-note 60s variety show for most of the storyline. "How to Succeed" (of which "Catch Me" obviously borrows it self-conscious technique from) just did a much better job engaging the audience and weaving a narrative that actually engaged the audience. Radcliffe's performance also anchored that show.
  • Catching 'Catch'
    NYCC,
    Thanks for chiming in.
    I think the comparison to How to Succeed is an obvious one, but for me they are very different shows. 'How To' (saw the Broderick revival but not the new one) is a swinging cartoon. 'Catch Me' has actual relationships. That doesn't make one better than the other, just different. And the overall design, tone, and pacing of this show is very different than 'How To.'
    Perhaps Tveit has found more nuance in the role since you--and most of the critics--saw it. That's always a possibility. But I was with him on the journey, enjoyed watching him evolve, and appreciated the growth of the character as he went from the kick of cheating the system to the "how do I get out of this?" mode of a more mature guy. And the audience I saw it with seemed to eat it up.
    Keep us posted on what else you see. You are welcome to chime in any time on You-review-it Monday.
    Be well,
    Lou

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