Friday, April 20, 2018

Catch Me If You Can at Tacoma Musical Playhouse

By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, April 19, 2018

FBI agent Carl Hanratty, center, with the ensemble cast of “Catch Me If You Can,” photo by Kat Dollarhide
Catch Me If You Can at Tacoma Musical Playhouse is simply a lot of fun, from the opening song, “Live in Living Color” to wonderfully surprising twists at the end. Based on the film of the same title starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, this musical romp tells the tale of true-life con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. (Jake Atwood), who successfully conned people out of millions of dollars while getting away with pretending to be an airline pilot, a doctor and a prosecuting attorney, all before his 20th birthday.
Atwood, a Playhouse favorite from musicals such as Footloose and The Addams Family, plays Abagnale as a 1960s playboy in the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin mold. He is slick, smooth, expressive in his movement, and exudes an air of supreme confidence. Plus, he can sing and dance like nobody’s business.
Abagnale’s cons are so transparent (probably because they had to be simplified for the play) that it’s amazing anyone fell for them; yet in real life they did, over and over. And why did he do it? For fun, for riches, for women, and mostly to please his father, Frank Sr. (Jonathan Bill, also of Addams Family fame), who was himself a failed con man and a cad in an unhappy marriage to a woman he met in France while serving in the war. Early in the play, Frank Jr. catches his mother in an affair with his father’s best friend, and shortly after that his parents get divorced, and Frank Jr. runs away to begin his life of crime.
The play is kept simple and lighthearted throughout the first act with catchy show tunes like “The Pinstripes Are All They See,” a duet with Frank Jr. and Sr. in which the father explains to the son how women are attracted to a uniform; i.e., how appearances are all that matter. (The title comes from the ludicrous but funny notion that the Yankees are a winning team because of their pinstripe uniforms.)
Meanwhile, FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (John Miller) is hot on Frank’s trail, pursuing him as obsessively as Javert after Valjean.
In the second act, the story and the characters become much deeper and more layered, beginning when father and son meet in a bar and air their differences, a scene with a great duet on the song, “Little Boy Be a Man.”
It’s tempting to say that Atwood carries the show on his shoulders with his great stage presence and exuberance, but that would be to ignore other outstanding performances by the likes of Miller as Hanratty, who is like a slightly less frenetic John Belushi on a mission from God. Claire Barton is down-to-earth and lovely as Frank’s fiancée, Brenda. Her solo ballad “Fly, Fly Away” is show-stopping and heartbreaking. Bill underplays the senior Abagnale with heart, and he sings with mellow resonance. He might be a terrible father and husband, but audiences can’t help but like him. Michele Greenwood Bettinger is terrifically funny as Brenda’s mother. Three other actors who stand out wonderfully in supporting roles are Josh Anderman, Nicholas Bray and Cameron Waters as the trio of Hanratty’s underling FBI agents. And I can’t overlook the marvelous chorus of leggy showgirls in costumes by Jocelyne Fowler. I wish I could name them all; they are that good.
The story is resolved with more than one surprise ending and none of the feel-good ballyhoo expected of a stage musical. It is a satisfactory and believable ending, as it should since it is a true story.
The set by Blake York is a stunning ‘60s modernist, art nouveau-inspired airport lounge in sparkling silver with purple and blue lighting by lighting master John Chenault.
Catch Me If You Can, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, 2 p.m., through April 29, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, $22-$31,

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