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posted: 4/4/2013 6:00 AM

'Catch Me' a breezy if superficial musical journey

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  • Stephen Anthony, center, stars as teenage con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Broadway in Chicago's "Catch Me If You Can."

      Stephen Anthony, center, stars as teenage con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. in Broadway in Chicago's "Catch Me If You Can."
    Photo by Carol Rosegg

  • Merrit David Janes, left, plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who doggedly pursues Frank Abagnale Jr. in Broadway in Chicago's "Catch Me If You Can" inspired by Steven Spielberg's 2002 film about the real-life teenage con artist.

      Merrit David Janes, left, plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who doggedly pursues Frank Abagnale Jr. in Broadway in Chicago's "Catch Me If You Can" inspired by Steven Spielberg's 2002 film about the real-life teenage con artist.
    Photo by Carol Rosegg

  • While posing as a doctor, Frank (Stephen Anthony) falls in love with a kindhearted nurse (Aubrey Mae Davis) in the national tour of the Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman musical, "Catch Me If You Can."

      While posing as a doctor, Frank (Stephen Anthony) falls in love with a kindhearted nurse (Aubrey Mae Davis) in the national tour of the Marc Shaiman-Scott Wittman musical, "Catch Me If You Can."
    Photo by Carol Rosegg

  • Video: "Catch Me If You Can" clip

  • Video: "Catch Me If You Can" clip 2

 
 

The coast-to-coast tour of "Catch Me If You Can", a musical confection from 2011 about the real-life adventures of a teenage con artist, touched down this week for a brief layover at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

Inspired by Steven Spielberg's 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, "Catch Me If You Can" tells the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., who during the 1960s traveled around the world masquerading as a pilot, physician and lawyer, while forging checks totaling more than $2 million.

And he did it all before he turned 21.

The breezy, swanky, 1960s lounge music-inspired score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (who famously mined Motown pop for their hit, "Hairspray") and Terrence McNally's book power this show, a pleasantly prosaic diversion buoyed by a chipper, fresh-faced cast. It's led by Stephen Anthony -- a winsome newcomer with a terrific tenor voice -- who plays Frank. He's joined by veteran Merritt David Janes, ever-sympathetic as rumpled FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, who tirelessly pursues the fugitive Frank and whose high-energy "Don't Break the Rules" is among the peppiest of this show's swinging production numbers.

Throughout, leggy singer-dancers playing sexy flight attendants and naughty nurses kick up their heels Rockettes-style in relentlessly upbeat numbers that unfold against Bob Bonniol's retro animation backdrop. Flashy and fast-paced, they recall TV variety shows from the 1960s, which it turns out is entirely by design.

The action begins in an airport terminal where Carl has finally tracked down his teenage nemesis. The young con man agrees to surrender but only after he tells his story, which unfolds as a TV show -- complete with onstage orchestra -- and Frank as the host. It's a head-scratcher all right. Moreover, it makes for a fairly weak theatrical frame, so much so that the show's creators all but abandon it in the second act, which departs from Act I's jolly romp to take a more serious -- and not entirely successful -- turn.

The action flashes back several years to Frank's life with his reckless father Frank Sr. (Dominic Fortuna) and detached mother (Caitlin Maloney). Their divorce sends young Frank running, first to Pan American Airlines where he impersonates a pilot, and eventually to an Atlanta hospital. While impersonating a doctor, he falls in love with a guileless young nurse named Brenda (the cute-as-a-button Aubrey Mae Davis), who makes the jet-setting teen want to settle down (as a Louisiana lawyer). That, in turn, leads to his capture.

With director Jack O'Brien piloting, "Catch Me If You Can" cruises comfortably along for the most part. It's a pleasant enough ride, but the show does hit a few air pockets. For a musical rooted in a chase, there's not much tension. The love story also is unconvincing. As a result, Brenda's powerhouse ballad exhorting Frank to "Fly, Fly Away" at the end of Act II rings false. Because the stakes aren't very high, the emotional conclusion feels unearned and the sentiment comes across as contrived.

The show does tiptoe around the subject of dysfunctional relationships between emotionally distant fathers and emotionally needy sons -- something Carl, Frank Jr. and Frank Sr. know well. But it fails to explore the subject beyond a cursory duet in which Carl and Frank Sr. commiserate about their overbearing dads and a perfunctory ending in which Carl takes over as surrogate father to Frank Jr.

Too bad, because that's the kind of fuel that could have made "Catch Me If You Can" soar.

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