Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: Catch Me If You Can at The Pantages

Tour Company of Catch Me If You Can. Photos by Carol Rosegg

Visually glossy and slickly choreographed, the touring company of Catch Me If You Can has landed at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood for a two-week run. Based on con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.’s New York Times bestselling autobiography and subsequent Steven Spielberg film, the story has all the makings of a terrific stage show following the cat-and-mouse chase between a young, charismatic swindler and the FBI lifer who’s hot on his trail. So why doesn’t it fly?  

As re-envisioned by creators Terrence McNally (Ragtime, The Full Monty), Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman (Hairspray), it is now “The Frank Abignale Jr. Variety Show,” a song and dance extravaganza reminiscent of early comedy/variety shows like “The Dean Martin Show,” and as far as that goes, it makes sense  It’s entirely plausible that a showman like Frank would want to tell his story his way, and snappy production numbers with a chorus of long, leggy beauties - like Dino’s Golddiggers - would easily supply the requisite flash and sex appeal. But Dino never intended his show to be anything other than a good time, and Catch Me If You Can, while providing plenty of good time fun, still needs more than flash to make this musical comedy rise above the level of fluff.

Act I is filled with sensational dance numbers and starts off with a bang as the company explodes in “Live in Living Color.” Nick Kenkel recreates Jerry Mitchell’s terrific choreography, performed with Rockette-like precision by the show’s talented ensemble, and the bright, bold Technicolor projections that serve as the scene locations are full of clever optical illusions and retro fun.

But McNally’s surprisingly shallow book perpetuates the stereotypes of jet-setting sex-starved stewardesses and nubile nurses playing doctor in after-hours orgies with their orderlies ad nauseam. We’ve seen it before and it wears thin as the evening progresses. It also reduces the characters to little more than one-dimensional generalizations, presumably to allow more time for the showier dance tunes to take center stage. Act II’s detour into smaller, intimate book scenes are either lackluster exchanges or ridiculously cheesy attempts at humor. 

Stephen Anthony has the fresh faced, youthful innocence of Abagnale and a soaring tenor voice but lacks the charisma and little boy lost charm that made Leonardo DiCaprio so compelling in the film. Merritt David Janes has the unenviable task of following Broadway superstar Norbert Leo Butz in a role that earned him a Tony Award for his showstopping performance as FBI agent Carl Hanratty. But Janes is no Butz, and Hanratty never fully comes to life.

Aubrey Mae Davis is Frank’s hair-tossing ingénue love interest. Amy Burgmaier plays her annoyingly cackling mother and D. Scott Withers her clueless father. Hanratty has a following of stock FBI cronies – including the dumb one, the obnoxious one, and the one who follows the crowd, and Frank’s sad sack loser of a father is played by Dominic Fortuna. There is little substance in any of them. The exception is Caitlin Maloney’s elegantly understated portrayal of Frank’s mother.

The production does boast some mighty fine musicians led by music director Matthew Smedal. Smedal has an intuitive sense of how to ride the musical wave of a scene giving this onstage orchestra showstopper credit in its own right. Listen for the especially rich solos from the trumpet section (John Fumo and Larry Hall).

So go for the souffle of gams, glitz, and good time. This ones all dessert.

March 12 – 24, 2014
Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd., just east of Vine Street
Tues – Fri at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm & 8pm, and Sun at 1pm & 6:30pm.
Runs: 2 Hours and 30 Minutes (including intermission) 
Book by Terrence McNally
Score by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman
Choreography by Jerry Mitchell, recreated by Nick Kenkel
Direction by Jack O’Brien, recreated by Matt Lenz
Music Director: Matthew Smedal
Scenic Design: David Rockwell
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Kenneth Posner
Sound Design: Peter McBoyle  

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