Bigger than life con-man, Frank Abagnale, captured the imagination of millions when his string of exploits were uncovered in "Catch Me If You Can", reprised in a musical adaptation of the well-known story, now playing at the Spreckles Performing Arts Center in Rohnert Park. Taking the art of check forging to new highs, Abagnale, portrayed by Zack Howard, used his considerable charm, imagination and innate intelligence to successfully pose as an astounding number of professional archetypes, including an airline pilot, medical doctor and lawyer, even passing the bar exam in Louisiana. It’s an improbable tale made even more dubious when it comes to light that Abagnale passed millions of dollars worth of bad checks before he was 21—not to mention that this story is not the result of a screen writer gone mad, but a true story that happened in the 1960s. Tension is built upon the relationship that evolves between Abagnale and FBI agent, Carl Hanratty, played by David Yen, over the years as they play their cat and mouse game.
Though the exploits are almost too fantastic to believe, the story is straightforward and might seem like an unusual choice to be made into a musical, but it mostly works. In the musical version the narrative is broken down even more than the movie and is told and retold, with the songs reinforcing the dialog. To explain the motivation behind the web of lies that Abagnale weaves, he is portrayed as a lonely young man without an anchor, suffering from the effects of a broken home, seeking connections with two role models in his life, his father and Hanratty.
In this version, presented by the Spreckles Theater Group, standout performances were delivered by Howard, in his first starring role, and Yen, both of whom were humorous and nuanced in making the audience feel how their mutual admiration and respect affected the ultimate outcome. Their strong voices carried the show to melodic highs. The choreography, oddly set in a song-and-dance vaudeville style, was spirited, with a chorus of leggy female dancers. At times, it seemed that some of the female roles were unnecessarily stereotyped, especially since this is a relatively recent musical, with flight attendants and nurses depicted as sexy and seductive. Overall the singing and dancing were good, with some performances stronger than others, and there was some technical difficulty with one of the microphones, either being off, too low to hear or cutting in and out. Choreographer and dancer Michella Snider was clearly in a class of her own among the other ensemble dancers.
Abagnale’s exploits have been well chronicled in his autobiography, where he details even more alias’ than are portrayed here, but it would be impossible to fit them into one play. The musical follows the basic story line of the 2002 DreamWorks movie pretty closely but with dozens of locations to contend with the adaptation to live theater required some creative thinking. Director Gene Abravaya did a masterful job with a spare stage and ample use of video screens and the new Paradyne projection system (developed by Spreckles Performing Arts Center) to effectively depict locations around the world. A musical is always enhanced with live music and the band, led by Music Director Janis Wilson, provided a lively backdrop.
“Catch Me If You Can”, playing through May 25 at the Spreckles Performing Arts Center, is an entertaining tale and the musical version is an enjoyable way to revisit this remarkable true story.
“Catch Me If You Can”, presented by the Spreckles Theater Company
Spreckles Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Runs through May 9-25, 2014
Tickets available online or by calling 707-588-3400; $26
“Catch Me If You Can” is presented by special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
Book by Terrence McNally; music by Marc Shaiman; lyrics by Scott Wittman and Mr. Shaiman; based on the DreamWorks motion picture.