By Martin F. Kohn
The actors bring their A game, the writers bring their B game; if we were dispensing grades this would work out to a B+ for “Catch Me If You Can,” the movie-inspired musical about real-life great impostor Frank Abagnale Jr.
Abagnale may have been a phony – with little education but maximum moxie he successfully passed himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer – but the performers are the real deal. A talented company of unknowns (at least for now), they’ve got to be delivering their A game because if they were putting forth any more, they would collapse in a heap at center stage instead of executing a smartly choreographed curtain call.
As for the writers, we know this is their B game because we’ve seen their A game. For composer-lyricist Marc Shaiman and lyricist Scott Wittman that would be the hummable, quotable “Hairspray”; for writer Terrence McNally, the absorbing drama of “Ragtime” and the sprightly storytelling of the much lighter “The Full Monty.”
Those earlier musicals, all based upon films, may have been works for hire, but they felt genuinely inspired, whereas “Catch Me If You Can” has the feel of an assignment carried out in a craftsmanlike manner.
Still, it’s a snappy production, visually delightful and highly entertaining. For the snap and images we have director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell (a pair of Michigan natives, coincidentally); David Rockwell’s brash set, heavy on video projections; and William Ivey Long’s sharp assortment of period (early ’60s) costumes, from flight attendants to film noir detectives to swingin’ singles to guests at a fancy part down south.
The whole thing is posited as a flashy TV special telling Abagnale’s story in flashback “Live in Living Color,” as the first song proclaims.
The show is centered around Stephen Anthony as Frank and Merritt David Janes as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent who doggedly pursues him over the miles and over the years – sort of Javert to Frank’s Jean Valjean (without the gloom and desperation).
Anthony, a fine song-and-dance man, brings youthful charm, bravado and vulnerability to Frank who pulled off most of his exploits while still in his teens. Frank is an orphan by choice (he runs away from his squabbling parents), and Anthony consistently plays an undercurrent of solitude, even as Frank’s schemes grow more and more gleefully outlandish.
Janes as his foil, Hanratty, portrays another side of solitude: The lawman is so dedicated to his job that his wife has shown him the door and even his fellow Feds poke fun at him.
The third major character is Frank’s father, Frank Abagnale Sr., a once successful businessman who got in trouble with the IRS and never got out of it. Dominic Fortuna skillfully embodies Frank Sr.’s pride in his son and his corresponding lack of pride in himself.
The ensemble navigates a dazzling array of songs and dances (not to mention costume changes), and the orchestra, onstage throughout the show, becomes a major presence in its own right.
‘Catch Me If You Can’
Fisher Theatre, 3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit. Tuesday-Sunday through May 19. 2 hours, 30 minutes. $35-80. 313-872-1000. http://www.broadwayindetroit.com