Catch Me If You Can
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 14, 2011
Catch Me if You Can, the latest in the ever-growing pile of Broadway musicals based on hit movies, is also Broadway's latest major disappointment. When I left, my main thought was how could people like Terrence McNally, Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman, Jack O'Brien, and Jerry Mitchell—responsible for some truly excellent work in years past—have managed to create something this uninteresting and unentertaining?
The story, as you probably know, is based on the true exploits of Frank Abagnale, Jr., who, as Wikipedia summarizes helpfully
became notorious in the 1960s for passing $2.5 million worth of meticulously forged checks across 26 countries over the course of five years, beginning when he was 16 years old. In the process, he claimed to have assumed no fewer than eight separate identities, impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor, a Bureau of Prisons agent, and a lawyer.
Instead of providing a single perspective for their musical, McNally, Shaiman, Wittman, and company have opted to tell this exciting adventure tale from both the point of view of Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent in charge of tracking Abagnale down, and Frank himself. They do so in three different styles, which alternate without any kind of unifying logic throughout the show. So, sometimes this is a concept musical á la Chicago, taking the form of a '60s era TV variety show that young Frank might have watched at the time he began his remarkable career as a criminal. Other times, Catch Me seems to want to be a serious musical drama about the human beings involved in the story (as in a climactic song called "Fly, Fly Away," sung by Frank's fiancée Brenda after she learns his true identity); these parts of the musical, few and far between, tantalize us with the show this might have been.
The rest of the time, somebody with a lot of clout but little artistic vision appears to have taken over, turning Catch Me if You Can into a tasteless spectacle whose main goal seems to be the wanton objectification of women. The chorus of ten lovely young ladies, presumably glad to be employed in this economy, are made to perform in numbers like "Jet Set" (as mini-skirted flight attendants, delivering double-entendre lyrics about pilots) or, even more egregious, "Doctor's Orders" (as mini-skirted nurses, delivering double-entendre lyrics about doctors). When Catch Me descends into these moments, it ranks with the real stinkers of Broadway's past: The ultra-vulgar Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public came right to mind.
Such a schizophrenic approach to structure and style renders Catch Me if You Can dull, witless, and, too often, clueless. I kept hoping for the artistry that its creators have demonstrated in the past, but it just never comes. Ditto the cast, which is headed by Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit. Butz, who won a Tony playing a character not too different from Frank Abagnale, Jr., in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, is here saddled with the buttoned-up antagonist Carl Hanratty. It is not a comfortable fit; Butz works hard to make his character fun, affecting a bluesy singing style and a manic ants-in-the-pants style of movement, but it never really works. Tveit, meanwhile, though certainly handsome and convincingly a teenager, ignites no spark whatsoever. Pros in supporting roles like Tom Wopat, Nick Wyman, Kerry Butler, and Linda Hart struggle gamely with the material they've been given, but their success is either fleeting (Wopat has a couple of ok moments as Frank, Sr.) or actively sabotaged by the creative team (Hart's powerhouse talent is squandered as Brenda's mom, who is rendered as a vulgar Southern stereotyped ninny in a song called "Our Family Tree").
As I near the conclusion of this review, I'm thinking to myself, was there anything about Catch Me if You Can that I thought was meritorious? Believe me, I know that making a musical comedy is very, very difficult; I hate to write so negatively about something that took thousands of hours and millions of dollars to make. But, no, there wasn't a single redeeming moment. Somehow, this train derailed. Best thing for all involved is to move onto the next thing; the people behind this show are entitled to make mistakes. Fingers crossed that their next shows will be a whole lot better.