In 'Catch Me If You Can,' Aaron Tveit and company try to revive the 2002 Leonardo DiCaprio film.
It's true that inside every chunky person is a slim one trying to bust out. Same goes for "Catch Me If You Can," a new Broadway musical that is tasty but buried under empty calories.
How can you fly with excess baggage?
Based on the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, the production opened Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theatre following a 2009 tryout in Seattle. "Hairspray" songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, director Jack O’Brien and book writer Terrence McNally are the creative brains.
While "Hairspray" was a feel-good show that easily put the audience on the right side of the issues, "Catch Me" can't go that route. It's about charismatic (and pathological) lost-boy con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (Aaron Tveit), who gets rich in the 1960s by passing himself off as a pilot, lawyer and doctor. Carl Hanratty (Norbert Leo Butz) is a lonely G-man on his tail.
Frank's story is told in flashback as moments from a vintage TV variety special. The device makes sense for a con who was always "on."
The production gets off to a gangbusters start with "Live in Living Color," a peppy number aswirl in bright period costumes (by William Ivey Long) and flashy lights (by Kenneth Posner).
Things soon deflate in scenes giving a back-story for Frank's criminal ways. Dad (Tom Wopat, gruff but tender) was an operator in his own right. Mom (a chic Rachel de Benedet) was a flirt. Frank is their mashup.
The show has wonderful moments, but issues abound. McNally's overstuffed story jockeys unsteadily between hijinks and serious drama. With Frank's story, the FBI agent's story and Frank's girlfriend's family's story, it's just too much.
Shaiman and Wittman's score shows polish and style. "Butter Out of Cream" smoothly states Frank's life motto, while "Don't Be a Stranger" is a moody backdrop for a glamorous dance. But "(Our) Family Tree" and "Doctor's Orders" could've been cut and never missed.
Jerry Mitchell's polished choreography showcases willowy chorus girls and wiry guys. The propulsive "Jet Set" captures the swinging '60s to a T, but eventually his numbers get repetitive.
The concept of having the orchestra onstage works well enough, and O'Brien makes clever use of David Rockwell's sleek set by having characters and scenery rise and disappear like magic.
The show's biggest plus is a cast so great you see beyond the shortfalls. Tveit ("Next to Normal") drips confidence as the con man and sings and dances like a dream.
Butz (a Tony winner for "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") steals the show as the lovably quirky law man who becomes Frank's father figure. The show's zenith comes midway into Act I, when Butz, dancing like he's got two left feet, turns "Don't Break the Rules" into a textbook show-stopper.
Kerry Butler makes no impact until Act II, when she emerges as Frank's soul mate Brenda, a lost girl looking for her own identity and a true connection. With her hands balled into tight fists, she turns the wistful "Fly, Fly Away" into a moving command that speaks to the whole show. "Catch Me If You Can" aims for the clouds but only occasionally gets there.
It reunites most of the creative team from "Hairspray," boasts energetic '60s music and a fantastic performance by Norbert Leo Butz. It even has leggy chorus girls in small skirts and big hair.
Yet "Catch Me If You Can" flounders. How is that possible?
Inspired by a true story popularized by Steven Spielberg's 2002 movie, the Broadway show that opened last night follows the fraudulent activities of Frank Abagnale Jr. (Aaron Tveit, from "Next to Normal") while he's pursued by dogged FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Butz, switching sides after "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels").
The tale begins in 1964, when the 16-year-old Frank flees his home, rocked by the divorce of his glamorous, French-born mother (Rachel de Benedet) and scammer dad (Tom Wopat). He spends the following two years conning his way across America as a pretend pilot, doctor and lawyer, and bankrolling his antics with forged checks.
The big idea in Terrence McNally's book is to tell the story as a '60s-style TV variety show. As in those programs, the orchestra sits onstage, which limits the options of director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
The latter's style feels particularly cramped. For each winning number -- "Doctor's Orders" brings on the sex-ay -- there's a perfunctory one like "(Our) Family Tree," in which dancers bafflingly affix ribbons to the stage.
It's hard to build momentum anyway, because every time Marc Shaiman's playful pop score threatens to take off, a character starts blathering on. Less talking, more singing, please!
But then, there's not much flow to the show. McNally clumsily strings together disparate scenes just to set up songs. Characters abruptly come and go, often through a trap door, and the criminally underused Kerry Butler ("Xanadu") pops up just long enough to deliver the 11 o'clock number, "Fly, Fly Away."
"Catch Me If You Can" makes Abagnale a sympathetic figure guilty mainly of charming everybody. Tveit is handsome and sings well, but overuses his Colgate smile and lacks the pizazz necessary to sell the snake oil. This Frank is a junior, all right: many personas but little personality.
Butz, on the other hand, has charisma to spare -- which is saying something, since he puts the "ratty" back in Hanratty. His body hunched at an angle, a greasy-looking hat perched on his head, he creates a fully rounded character, and displays unfailing musical-comedy flair.
During "Don't Break the Rules" -- one of the few genuinely rousing numbers -- he simultaneously dances and sings without missing a beat or a breath.
In this show, it's the FBI man who's the most wanted.
As befits a lad of the 1960s with a talent for smooth come-ons, Frank Abagnale Jr. prefaces the story of his life with the promise that it will have “more curves than a Playboy bunny.” But as presented in the new musical “Catch Me if You Can,” which opened Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theater, this portrait of the con artist as a young man (portrayed by Aaron Tveit) seems to consist mostly of straight lines, like the kind you use to connect the dots in picture puzzles.
Created by much of the team that gave us the long-running Broadway hit “Hairspray” — including the songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the choreographer Jerry Mitchell and the director Jack O’Brien — “Catch Me if You Can” has been constructed with such care that you imagine its transparent blueprint looming between you and the stage. Though the real-life story that inspired this show (and the 2002 movie of the same title) is full of elaborate deceptions and corkscrew twists, you will never at any point be confused by its theatrical incarnation.
Or roused or touched or more than mildly entertained, for about 90 percent of the time. (There is one wow of an exception, a first-act production number led by Norbert Leo Butz.) In the season of the incomprehensible, out-of-control “Spider-Man,” I suppose one should give extra points to a show that is so tidy and utterly of a piece. But a tale that follows a continent-spanning pursuit of a chameleon criminal should have, above all things, momentum. And “Catch Me” mostly just seems to stand in one place, explaining itself.
On paper it must have read like a thrill-a-minute proposition. The real Frank Abagnale Jr. had the youth, looks, quick-wittedness and chutzpah that turn criminals into folk heroes. Before he was 21 he had forged millions of dollars worth of checks and successfully passed himself off as an airline pilot, a lawyer and a pediatric doctor.
Steven Spielberg’s movie about him was a silken, sexy entertainment, featuring what is probably the best adult performance given by Leonardo DiCaprio, who played Frank. (Tom Hanks was the F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty, Frank’s Javert-like pursuer, a role here played by the invaluable Mr. Butz.) And if it didn’t exactly cry out to be transformed into a musical, it possessed several ingredients much valued on Broadway these days.
It is about scamming (“Chicago,” “The Producers,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). Its central relationship is between two adversarial but bromantically bonded men (“The Producers,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “The Book of Mormon”). And, hot diggity, it is set in the booze-guzzling, chain-smoking, babe-chasing 1960s, an era that with the success of “Mad Men” on television has become Broadway’s decade du jour (Rob Ashford’s revivals of “Promises, Promises” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”).
With “Hairspray” Mr. Shaiman and Mr. Wittman lucratively mined another vein of the 1960s — Motown-style pop — so taking on “Catch Me” seemed a natural. But this time they’re doing pastiches of music from television variety shows — of both the Mitch Miller and Dean Martin kinds — a form that is dangerously close to lounge and elevator music.
“Catch Me” uses the TV song-and-dance show the way “Chicago” uses vaudeville: It’s the structure through which we meet the characters and watch the plot develop. So after a lively opening scene in which Frank is arrested at a Miami airport, Mr. Tveit turns to us to present, in musical flashback, his story, his way. This means with a white-jacketed onstage band, mood-ring-colored lighting and a lot of leggy chorus girls.
The conceptual anchor of the variety show is thoroughly imagined and sustained, in its sets (David Rockwell), costumes (William Ivey Long) and lighting (Kenneth Posner). Similarly, Jerry Mitchell’s (rather perfunctory) choreography evokes the provocative postures of Dean Martin’s Golddiggers and the writhings of dance shows like “Hullabaloo.”
Frank’s back story, however, is envisioned as it might have been by a pipe-smoking 1960s equivalent of Dr. Phil. Frank, you see, behaves as he does because he is the child of broken home. A direct line is traced between his reckless behavior and his desire to please his charismatic ne’er-do-well dad (Tom Wopat) and his sexy French mom (Rachel de Benedet).
The script also draws blunt parallel lines between Frank, the pursued, and Carl, the pursuer, a work-obsessed loner. They turn out to have a lot more in common than you might suspect (except that you do, from the beginning), and they are each dutifully given songs to explain how and why. The flashy musical numbers definitely emerge from the plot, just as they are supposed to do in your basic organic musical, but they sometimes have the chalky flavor of audio-visual aids.
The notion of Frank as a little boy lost limits the performance of Mr. Tveit, who was terrific as the mother-haunting son in “Next to Normal.” He has intense presence, for sure, and a bright, blasting voice (though it belongs more to the age of “American Idol” than “American Bandstand”). But his performance is ultimately one-note, all shine and no shadows.
As his father the estimable Mr. Wopat seems so beaten down from the beginning that Frank Jr.’s worship of him makes no sense. The lovely, underused Kerry Butler brings her charming, conspicuously self-effacing air to the second act as Brenda, Frank’s wholesome love interest. Linda Hart and Nick Wyman chomp noisily on the scenery as Brenda’s parents. The jokes throughout — especially those swapped by Carl’s team of F.B.I. agents — are pro forma and faintly embarrassing.
Mr. Butz, who would have made an intriguing Frank a decade ago, here so completely takes on the stoop, shuffle, mumble and pallor of an overworked, middle-aged man that I was afraid his performance might grate. That was before he stopped the show with “Don’t Break the Rules,” a number about how Carl got into police work.
Holding on to his character’s sad sack mannerisms, and leading with his convex belly, Mr. Butz works the friction between Carl’s dumpy, arthritic form and the jivey spiritedness of the song to create a witty portrait of the passion that pulses within one gray, weary soul. The musical comes to ecstatic, surprising life during that song, and it’s all the more exciting because — unlike everything else in “Catch Me if You Can” — you didn’t see it coming.
Frank Abagnale Jr., the former con artist whose memoir inspired a Steven Spielberg movie, managed to pass himself off as an airline pilot, a pediatrician and an attorney before turning 21.
One feat that Abagnale did not attempt was writing and starring in a stage musical about his youthful adventures. And now we know why.
Not that Catch Me If You Can (* * ½ out of four), the new Broadway show based on the aforementioned film and autobiography of the same name, is a dud. Boasting a score by the famously witty team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and a book by Terrence McNally, Catch Me is too ambitious and stylish in its efforts to entertain and move us to induce boredom.
The main problem with this production, which opened Sunday at the Neil Simon Theatre, is that only one of the two leading men is consistently compelling. And it's not the one playing Abagnale (Aaron Tveit).
Rather, it's the actor cast as his nemesis. Norbert Leo Butz is predictably marvelous as Carl Hanratty, the schlumpy federal agent who stalks and eventually nails the underage schemer — though not as handily as Butz walks away with the show.
Don't blame Tveit, the square-jawed young actor who plays Frank Jr. — at least not entirely. A robust singer and fluid dancer, Tveit exudes the kind of slick charm that surely helped Abagnale finagle his way into diverse fields, not to mention considerable fortune.
But that charm wears thin over 2½ hours in which Frank Jr. and his exploits are so dominant. The musical is structured so that we see our mischievous finagler crafting his own story, introducing some numbers and then literally trying to sing and dance his way out of trouble. It's a canny conceit, but one that only emphasizes the character's disingenuousness.
Frank Jr.'s troubled family background also is documented, with a poignant Tom Wopat as Frank Sr., a less successful player who is nonetheless idolized by his son. But Tveit is most authentic when trying to seduce or impress us; he doesn't reveal the kind of vulnerability that would make us care about the younger Frank, as Leonardo DiCaprio did in the screen version.
In contrast, Butz imbues Carl (played by Tom Hanks in the film) with wry humor and bittersweet humanity. It's no accident that Tveit's Frank Jr. is more sympathetic in his scenes with Carl, who emerges both as a father figure and a fellow lonely soul.
Butz also handles the musical numbers with an ease that often trumps Tveit's more aggressive virtuosity. Certainly, Butz is more adept at milking Shaiman's jazzy nuances, which nod tothe more sophisticated side of '60s pop culture, from James Bond to Sinatra.
There are other elegant and frisky flourishes, from William Ivey Long's eye-candy costumes to Jerry Mitchell's vampish choreography — both of which draw attention to the leggy, voluptuous figures in the female ensemble.
Still, in failing to deliver a youthful protagonist you can really cheer for, this Catch Me If You Can may leave you feeling a bit cheated.