“Catch Me If You Can,” with the libretto by Terrence McNally and a theatrical score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, borrows much from the 2002 film of the same name which, in turn, was based on a 1980 autobiography by Abagnale and Stan Redding. After tryouts in Seattle, it opened at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in April 2011. The production received four Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, and won for Best Actor in a Musical.
As one can see, the Sterling Playmakers’ cast and design team had a lot of fun with the cast photos, which was also mirrored on stage. Set in the early 60s, this is a breezy, fun romp about a 16-year-old boy who has a penchant for sliding into other personas and runs away when his parents divorce. He may have inherited his particular skillset from his father, a failed businessman who was always borrowing from Paul to pay Peter until the IRS caught up with him. The boy, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (well played by Brett Stockman), also makes it his mission to pay his father’s debts, get the family store back, and reunite his family. For three years or so, he has quite the adventure. We start with his capture by the FBI, led by agent Carl Hanratty (a very good Jonathan Mulberg). Frank persuades Hanratty to tell his story to the people at the airport watching the arrest in exchange for sharing insights into how he managed to con millions out of people, become a fake Pan Am pilot, a doctor in Louisiana, and also pass the bar exam in Louisiana. This last was a particular sticking point with Hanratty.
This is an appealing, light-hearted show that is a lovely break from the everyday world.
Fleeing New Rochelle, young Frank heads straight to New York City and discovers that some of his father’s maxims really work. He acts his parts with confidence, persuades people to help him, and voila, he learns to fake checks and cash them (there is a funny song called “Word From Our Sponsors” extolling the utility of Elmer’s glue, India ink, a Swiss Army penknife, and scissors). He becomes a Pan Am pilot, finding new ground to con people (including Pan Am, as he ends up on the payroll). He jets around the world as a “deadhead” (off-duty) in his spiffy Pan Am co-pilot uniform.
The music is the key here. It moves the plot along, and the lead needs to have a strong enough voice to last through the show. Brett Stockman has the voice, ineffable energy, and boyish looks to carry it off. As Hanratty, Mulberg is slyly funny and he has a surprisingly deep voice capable of belting. There is palpable chemistry in his scenes with Stockman and their voices blend well together.
Frank Jr.’s parents are played by Joe Christian as Frank Sr. and Maureen Longanecker as his French mother, Paula (his parents met at the end of WWII). Longanecker has a lovely voice with a good range.
The other FBI agents are basically foils for Hanratty. Agent Branton (Conrad Rodearmel), Agent Cod (Kevin Humphries) and Agent Dollar (Jeff Wichman) provide the Keystone Kops-type of antics when trying to catch this elusive conman and they are funny.
The love interest, Brenda Strong, is played by Julia Braxton. She is a nurse Frank Jr. meets in the Louisiana hospital where he has taken a job as the overnight ER medical supervisor. He’s the youngest “doctor” on staff, she’s the youngest nurse on staff, and they click. Eventually he goes home to meet her parents, Carol (Jane Waldrop) and Roger (Rene “Kieth” Flores), where there biggest concern is if he is a Lutheran and how much money he makes. Realizing he can’t continue his ruse as a doctor, off-the-cuff he invents a brief history as a lawyer and passes the Louisiana bar exam. With the FBI is closing in, he begs Brenda to believe in him, and he flees for the airport. Brenda is afraid the FBI will shoot him and tells Hanratty about his plans. Frank is finally caught.
In between, we meet Cheryl-Ann, hysterically played by Rachael Wilks-McCann in her best Mae West impersonation. It’s a brief part, but memorable, particularly for the panache she gives it.
Then we come to the ensemble—Anastasia Brunk (also Ballroom Choreographer), Courtney Camden, Jay Daily, Sophia Martinese (also Dance Captain), America Michelle, William Price, and Karen Whitlock. A couple of the other actors also filled in the numbers of the ensemble when needed. It would have helped if the ensemble had been mic’d as some of the voices were difficult to hear over the music. The dances were nicely choreographed, and as a Greek chorus, the ensemble fulfilled that function admirably.
The costumer, Judith Harmon, created an incredible line-up of perfect retro costumes which were beautifully tailored. Kudos to the costume assistants (Laura Bingham and Adam Renner) and the stage crew (Nour Bahri, Joe Campanella, Mylo Schmidt, and Danny Seal) for the incredibly quick costume changes and seamless scene changes. Getting the ensemble out of and into different costumes and back on the stage in seconds must have taken many rehearsals to go so smoothly.
Set designer Shanna Christian created a multi-layered set. Much of the action takes place in front of the first set of curtains, which pulled back to reveal the FBI office, a hotel room, and others as needed. Lighting design/operations was by Joe Pecsi, sound design by Bill Fry, and music operators were Lora Buckman and Courtney Garofolo. Make-up and hair design was handled by Ashley Williams and she created singular looks for the entire cast.
This is a fun show with a lot of laughs and the dry humor was especially carried off well by Stockman and Mulberg. As Frank Sr., Christian gives a bravura performance as a man sliding down into failure. The director, Shanna Christian, keeps the action moving with a screwball comedy feel. This is an appealing, light-hearted show that is a lovely break from the everyday world.
Running Time: Approximately two hour and 25 minutes with one intermission.
Show Advisory: Sexual references, adult language.
“Catch Me If You Can” ran through November 21, 2021 at Sterling Playmakers at The Theatre at Seneca Ridge Middle School, 98 Seneca Ridge Drive, Sterling, VA 20164. For more information, about this production and the rest of their season, please click here.