By Thom Geier
Updated April 11, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT
Joan Marcus

A con artist tends to rely on misdirection and style to win over his unwitting marks. But Broadway audiences aren’t such easy targets. And despite their best efforts, the artists behind the diverting but undercooked musical version of Catch Me if You Can don’t quite pull off the big score.

The surface appearances are right: the moddish ’60s set (by David Rockwell), the colorful costumes (by William Ivey Long), and the star-making turn by Aaron Tveit in the role Leonardo DiCaprio made famous in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film. With his boyish good looks, Pepsodent smile, confident stage presence, and sweet singing voice, Tveit seems perfectly suited to playing Frank Abagnale Jr., who drops out of high school to pursue improbable consecutive careers as a check forger, Pan Am pilot, pediatrician, and assistant district attorney. In the Tom Hanks role of the FBI agent pursuing Abagnale, Norbert Leo Butz seems an appropriately schlumpy bureaucrat. Butz, who won a Tony for playing a small-time swindler himself in 2005’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, gets a first-act song-and-dance showstopper, ”Don’t Break the Rules” — and then mostly recedes into the background.

The show’s love interest (the Amy Adams role from the film) is also generally MIA until rather late in the show, though she’s occasionally trotted out as foreshadowing in the first act. It’s another bit of misdirection, but a smart one because it gives the adorable Kerry Butler a little more stage time. When she finally appears as nurse Brenda, Butler delivers one of the show’s most memorable tunes, the lovely ballad ”Fly, Fly Away.”

Part of the problem with Catch Me If You Can is Terrence McNally’s book, which is oddly paced and curiously structured. When Abagnale is arrested by the feds in the opening scene, he takes the opportunity to tell his own story from the beginning in the style of a ’60s TV show. Why a TV show and not a Broadway play? I have no idea. Perhaps composer Marc Shaiman is just accustomed to the idiom since ’60s TV factored so largely in his Tony-winning hit Hairspray.

Shaiman has also conceived the music as a pastiche of early ’60s musical styles, all of them curiously pre-rock. Unfortunately, this makes the score seem even more old-fashioned than some of the musicals genuinely from that era (like the current hit revival How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying). There’s even a faux Mitch Miller who pops up for a big-bandish number — sadly, without a singalong chorus or bouncing ball to follow. Aside from a handful of standouts, most of the songs seem generic and a bit, well, square. One number even ends on a Rat Pack parody (”Look out old Frankie is home!”). Somehow I suspect that the real Abagnale, ultimate teenage rebel that he was, would more likely have aspired to be Elvis than Sinatra.

Jerry Mitchell’s choreography is also a bit of a grab-bag — a little kick-line here, a little Fosse there — though it’s consistently both energetic and spirited. In fact, the entire cast (which also includes Tom Wopat as Frank Abagnale Sr.) seems to be working very hard to put over the material. Under the direction of Jack O’Brien, though, Catch Me If You Can moves mostly in fits and starts. The first act ends abruptly, without a big production number, and throwaway songs like ”(Our) Family Tree” with Brenda and her parents tend to stop the show in its tracks. In the end, you have a rooting interest in both Frank and his cohorts on stage. You want them to get away with just about anything. But the creators of Catch Me If You Can have rigged the game against them. What should have been a fun lark of a story seems almost stodgy, like your grandmother’s idea of a good time. B-

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Catch Me if You Can

  • Stage
  • Jack O'Brien