The current production at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is “Catch Me If You Can,” with book by Terrence McNally music by Marc Shaiman and Lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman.
This fast-paced musical adventure is based on the true story of a real fake – Frank W. Abagnale Jr. The musical is based on the 2002 movie by the same name which starred Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role and Tom Hanks as his undaunted pursuer, FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty.
Let’s make it clear. This is a terrific production of a very interesting story. John Douglas Rake’s direction is wonderful, his choreography is beautiful and diverse and, boy is it ever energetic!
Jeffrey Stvrtecky’s musical direction is right on. He handles his orchestra members so that they are not so loud they block out the voices of the singers but just make beautiful music. The band members consist of Jenessa Stout, Shannon Bates and Alex Hilborn on reeds; Rick Leffler and John Stava, trumpets; Mick Crosby, trombone; Dean Story, piano; Addison Daniels, piano/strings; Tim Nordstrom, electric guitar; Stephen Kennedy, double and electric bass; and Iris McBride, percussions/drums.
Blake R. York’s set is a marvelous art deco experience and very workable; it reminds one of Hollywood of the 1920’s and ‘30’s. John Chenault’s lighting design backs up everything. Jocelyne Flower’s costumes are prolific and excellent.
There are a couple of problems with the show itself – not the production. Simply put, it you haven’t seen the movie you could get very lost in the translation from screen to stage. There’s just not enough time or space to replicate the entire story in the detail the audience would need to be able to thoroughly follow it.
That said, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll easily be able to fit the added musical numbers in the right place to hold the story together.
The story is about a young boy, paused on the brink of manhood, who believes in and loves his father unequivocally. Unfortunately, Frank Senior is an alcoholic dreamer prone to announcing victories over adverse events which he dreams will be conquered long before there is a real possibility of his delusions coming true.
In Frank Junior’s adolescent mind, if Daddy says it will happen, he knows it will and buys into the unrealized dream believing each cover-up story his father feeds him with a learned cover-up of his own until the boy’s whole life becomes one game of lying and pretending to be someone else until he actually convinces everyone, including himself, that his fantasies are true.
Frank Junior ends up becoming a cheat who costs Pan American Airlines and the United States Government more than two million dollars and changes his identity at the drop of a footfall of his pursuer, Carl Hanratty.
Through the two-hour show, Frank Abagnale Jr. steal over two million dollars, he flew hundreds of Pan Am planes as a pilot, practiced medicine at a top Atlanta hospital and worked as a prosecutor for the State of Louisiana – all under assumed names and without finishing high school – and that’s not all!
Rake’s cast has the story down pat; all do good work. The Ensemble has to dance to many different styles, from tap to modern to showgirl and chorus line.
Ensemble members include Heather Arneson, Deshanna Brown, Cassandra DeChant, Emma DeLoye, James Fesalbon, Nick Fitzgerald, Zach Forbes, Jared Hernandez, Lindsay Hovey, Kathy Kluska and Sarah Lynn Mangan. Everyone acts and sings and dances with such vim and vigor that the audience is breathing hard.
Josh Anderman, Nicholas Bray and Cameron Waters play a trio of FBI Agents who lamely assist Hanratty in his efforts to track down our pitiful, delinquent would-be protagonist. Fortunately for the foe, they turn out to be beautifully inept at their job and keep stumbling over themselves as the anti-hero eludes them most of the time. The trio’s bumbling actions are among some of the funniest parts of the show.
Michele Greenwood Bettinger plays Carol Strong and Peter Knickerbocker is her husband Roger; these are the innocent southern boobs who are mother and father of Junior’s chosen love. Bettinger and Knickerbocker are hilarious as the trusting parents stuck in the ‘50’s chained to their TV rituals and drawing the would-be family member with them.
Claire Barton is their charming daughter Brenda, who is so much in love with Frank, she finds it hard to believe her beau when he confesses his nefarious past to her and the fact that he is on the run from Hanratty.
Linda Palacios is Junior’s mother and his father’s loving wife, who undoubtedly married Frank because it was an immediate escape from the post-Nazi days of France. Palacios nicely develops Paula as a grateful younger woman who has outgrown her alcoholic, prevaricating husband and strives to start a new life with a more grounded man, which she does. Unfortunately, this not only takes a devastating toll on Frank Sr. but drags her son down to reality as well.
Jonathan Bill is an impressive Frank Abagnale Sr. The actor’s physical demeanor and rich full voice is demanding and mesmerizing. Bill’s character comes across with a real since of truth, even when you know he’s lying – you have to believe him – great job.
John Miller is wonderful as the oft times defeated Carl Hanratty. Miller runs the gamut from “Gotcha!” to “What Happened?” with real disbelief and humility. Miller shows his character’s hate/love relationship developing throughout the show. Miller’s glib line delivery aids his character’s believability
Jake Atwood is Frank Abagnale Jr. There is no question about this statement. Atwood has morphed into the character he is portraying so totally, it is hard to tell where the actor leaves off and the character begins. Atwood is one of Puget Sound’s best all-round performers, which he really proves with this role as the great imposter. Atwood’s line delivery is right on, his singing is clear and sharp and his dancing is impossibly energetic.
“Catch Me If You Can,” continues at Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue, just east of Jackson, through April 29, Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m.
For reservations or more information, call the box office at (253) 565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
Let’s get it straight, this is not a moralistic play but all parents with a slight touch of larceny can learn a great lesson from it: Be careful what you tell your kids. No matter how good or bad a parent you may be, most small ones love their parents unwaveringly and believe everything they say is true. Carefully weed out the impossible.
Hurry up and make reservations for “Catch Me If You Can” you only have four more chances to see this terrific production of the unbelievable true story.