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CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Arena Stage

Christian Thompson (Frank Abagnale, Jr.) and the cast of Catch Me If You Can from March 4 to April 17 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Margot Schulman.

From the moment the lights come on on Arena Stage’s revamped production of Catch Me If You Can, you know you’re in for a fun, high-octane musical theater night. The Arena stage – brilliantly decorated by decorator Alexander Dodge in 1970s burnt orange, brick red and mustard yellow, and surrounded by art deco benches – transforms into Miami International Airport and comes alive with a swarm bustling with travellers, pilots and air hostesses. And the FBI agents, who are there to arrest fugitive con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. – a forger, counterfeiter, and con artist who has spent the past three years posing as an airline pilot, doctor, and lawyer. .

Oh, and Frank is only 20.

For those unfamiliar with the plot, Catch Me If You Can is based on the semi-autobiographical (and largely fictionalized and exaggerated) book and film of the same name, and purports to tell the story of Abagnale’s life as a master criminal and wanted man.

Cornered at the airport, young Abagnale (Christian Thompson) demands to make a statement before he’s arrested – and he wants to do it on an hour-long musical variety show, ala The Ed Sullivan Show. He lives on the run and he wants his story to end with a bang, not a moan. At the right time, airport residents threw off their overcoats, revealing an ensemble clad in brightly colored block outfits, ready for the big opening number (Live in bright colors). It’s a catchy number that sets the tone and pace of the show, and it features an incredibly talented and versatile ensemble that drives much of the show’s plot.

BWW review: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Arena Stage
The cast of Catch Me If You Can until April 17 at
Arena stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

Through a series of flashback vignettes, we learn that Abagnale comes from a broken home. Her parents, Frank Sr. (Jeff McCarthy) and Paula (Stephanie Pope Lofgren) divorce after she had an affair, and rather than face his bleak prospects (someone else’s skin), young Frank flees with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and a checkbook full of blank checks. He scams a hotel employee into cashing a worthless check for him, and so begins his life of checks, forgery and forgery. He quickly discovers the perfect cover – posing as an airline pilot (Jet set), allowing him to travel the world, never staying in one place too long, with free uniforms provided by Pan Am. He learns that hotels are eager to cash his bogus Pan Am paychecks, and he unaware that FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Nehal Joshi) is already beginning to track the movements of the mysterious crook who passes bad checks all over the world. world (I’m here to save the day).

The first act sets the stage for the rest of Abagnale’s escapades, and also foreshadows a critical subplot – the relationship between fathers and sons (Fifty Checks, Butter Outta Cream, and My favorite time of year).

The second act begins with another key number (the sexy and suggestive doctor’s orders) and Frank’s last transformation. He now pretends to be a doctor, the pediatrician on duty in the emergency room of a major hospital in Atlanta. But dark clouds are looming on the horizon – Agent Hanratty is closing in. Separate interviews with Paula and Frank Sr (Don’t be a stranger and the poignant Little boy, be a man) provide vital clues in Hanratty’s research.

BWW review: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Arena Stage
Nehal Joshi (Carl Hanratty) in catch me
Whether you can
at the Arena stage. picture by
Margot Schulman.

Meanwhile, a chance encounter between Frank and Brenda Strong (Hayley Podschun), a young nurse working at the hospital, leads to love (seven wonders), and Frank and Brenda head to New Orleans to announce their engagement to Brenda’s parents, Carol and Roger (Alexandra Frohlinger and Rhett Guter), with Hanratty hot on their heels. Frank is warmly welcomed into the Strong family (Our family tree) after telling Roger that he is an attorney with a law degree from Berkeley (Strong’s alma mater) and wants to join Roger’s firm.

Alas, the course of true love has never gone smoothly and Frank is forced to flee in the middle of his own engagement party (Fly, fly), only to get caught at the Miami airport, completing the story full circle (Bye and Strange but true).

Catch Me If You Can is a star vehicle, and Thompson shines brightly in the lead role – this show is a great opportunity to see a bright young actor whose star is on the rise. He’s a picture of youth and vitality, with a classic good looks, powerful voice (and incredible range), and superb comedic timing. It’s easy to believe that so many people could be charmed and fooled by her young Frank. And Joshi’s Hanratty provides the perfect counterpoint. Joshi has the difficult task of making FBI agent gung-ho both the story’s antagonist and (in many situations) Frank’s foil and comic relief to the series, and he gets the job done. of a yeoman moving seamlessly from facet to facet. Brenda de Podschun is the image of a Southern debutante, and the chemistry between her and Thompson is genuine and unforced. Lofgren and McCarthy bring just the right touch to Paula and Frank Sr., the suburban femme fatale and failed businessman forced to face his own shortcomings. McCarthy in particular has to cover a lot of emotional ground, and he does it with both bravado and introspective boredom. Ensemble members Frohlinger and Guter also deserve a nod for their turn as Brenda’s parents – they’re a wonderfully campy send-off of Southern society, and Frohlinger in particular is thoroughly enjoying his time in the spotlight. .

BWW review: CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at Arena Stage
Christian Thompson (Frank Abagnale, Jr.)
and Hayley Podschun (Brenda Strong) in
Catch Me If You Can at the Arena stage.
Photo by Margot Schulman.

As good as the leads are, the real strength of this show is the ensemble. As a unit, they perfectly cover an impressive range of music and dance styles, with several great production numbers throughout the show. It’s impossible to keep track of all the costume changes, as they quickly move from pilots and flight attendants, to FBI agents, to lawyers and secretaries, to doctors and nurses, to society couples. south – while managing all the scenery changes for the show. The show was interrupted several times for spontaneous (and well-deserved) applause for their work.

Musical Director and Conductor Laura Bergquist did an outstanding job with the ensemble’s vocal performance, and did an equally outstanding job leading the orchestra, including handing over the podium to Frank at the start of the second act. Director Molly Smith and choreographer Parker Esse have teamed up to create a fast-paced production that’s bursting with energy, but never feels frenetic. This show runs smoothly and the storytelling makes the most of a somewhat irregular book.

Rounding out the creative team, the work of lighting designer Nicole Pierce creates the perfect mood for each scene, and sound designer Daniel Erdberg navigated a complex sonic plot with great dexterity. Alejo Vietti’s costumes and Charles G. LaPointe’s wigs are just perfect – you’re instantly transported to the late 60s and early 70s by their work.

This production is a completely redesigned version of the series – Arena’s creative team collaborated with the series’ original writers (Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and for Terrence McNally, Tom Kirdahy [Terrence’s husband and manager of the estate]) to rework the show, restoring two songs not in the Broadway show, cutting three others, and reworking the book from several McNally drafts. Like any creative piece, there is a certain amount of artistic license taken with the material, in addition to the significant amount or “artistic license” (to put it charitably) that Abagnale took when writing his own memoirs.

That said, while most of the story isn’t even close to the truth about Abagnale’s life, it’s a fun evening of delightful theater. Enjoy it for what it is – and for the wonderful performance on display – and ask for nothing more. Catch Me If You Can is an energetic and joyful night of escapist fun, and exactly what pandemic-weary audiences have been waiting for – Catch it during you can.

Duration: Two hours and twenty minutes with an intermission.

Catch Me If You Can until April 17. For more information on Arena Stage, click here.