Theatre Review: “Catch Me If You Can” @ Neil Simon Theatre, 03/11/10

Disclaimer: I saw the Catch Me If You Can on the first preview, March 11, 2011. No press tickets were given; I purchased my own ticket.

It’s been less than 48 hours since I’ve seen Catch Me If You Can, and I can’t even remember what the point was. To be honest, I’m not even sure if there was one. It seems a bit strange that after their huge hit like Hairspray, the creative team would get back together and work on Catch Me If You Can. Hairspray’s characters and story line gave way to musical theatre very easily. (The music and dance is even an essential part of the plot line.) But Catch Me If You Can uses the concept of “putting on a Broadway show” to allow the characters to sing and dance. The infamous main character, Frank Abagnale, Jr. (Aaron Tveit), is constantly referring to the orchestra, back-up dancers and even the audience to tell his story. And yet, it only makes for awkward, disconnected story-telling.

Here’s the problem with Catch Me if You Can: the material doesn’t call for singing or dancing. It shouldn’t be a musical.

The characters, especially Agent Carl Hanratty (Norbert Leo Butz) shouldn’t be singing about his woes and troubles. It just doesn’t make sense. Norbert Leo Butz reduced his vocals to talk-singing throughout many of his songs. It was like he was pulling a “Rex Harrison” — with the difference being that we all know that Norbert Leo Butz can sing the hell out of anything and Rex couldn’t. It’s incredible to me that Leo Butz has gone from being “leading man” material –like Jamie in The Last Five Years or Fiyero in Wicked — to a disheveled, obsessive older man in his late 50’s with a beer gut. He does a great job with the character, but it wasn’t the same Norbert Leo Butz that we’re used to seeing on the Broadway stage and I was dissapointed.

Another one of my favorite Broadway actresses, Kerry Butler (who plays Brenda Strong), was never utilized until Act 2, when she suddenly falls in love with Frank Abagnale Jr.. Instantly, we are suppose to care about their relationship, even though it hasn’t been developed in any regards. She sings her big 11 o’clock number, “Fly, Fly Away” with major gusto and yet I somehow still didn’t care. It’s not Butler’s fault; it’s the material’s fault.

All of the supporting characters: Frank’s mother, Paula Abagnale (Rachel de Benedet), Frank’s father, Frank Abagnale, Sr. (Tom Wopat), Brenda’s mother, Carol Strong (Linda Hart) and Brenda’s father, Roger Strong (Nick Wyman) are all incredible actors. This is a great cast with some of Broadway’s finest talent. (It reminds me of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown.) But, with no great material, even these talents can’t force their way through the story, lyrics and music.

The set, designed by David Rockwell, placed the orchestra visibly on stage (which was a new concept developed after the original out-of-town tryout in Seattle). It was completely white, decked out in a 1960’s pattern and created a “jazz band” type feeling on the stage (even though the orchestra was never utilized as a “jazz band”). At first, I thought it was a cool design, but it quickly grew tiresome, after looking at the same thing throughout the entire 2 1/2 hour run of the show.

Not only was the set entirely white, but the chorus’ costumes, designed by William Ivey Long, were too. The first number, “Live in Living Color” was a great opening number that used the lighting design to splash color all over the stage. I kept waiting for the rest of the musical to be in “living color” but it ended up to be in black and white. I’m assuming it was a concept they were going for, but an entire chorus costumed in white on a Broadway stage for the bulk of the musical is less than appealing.

The music, by Marc Shaiman, was really good. I loved several of the songs: “Live in Living Color”, “Jet Set” and “Fly, Fly Away.” But others missed the mark. Tveit’s song, “Good-Bye” at the end of Act 2 was amazing, but it sounded like an 80’s pop song, instead of the 1960’s score they had employed throughout the rest of the musical. It felt really out of place, even though it was one of the best songs in the show.

I generally love Jerry Mitchell’s choreography, but somehow I think he missed the mark as well. It might have been because the chorus was used in almost every main number (and they were overused throughout), or because it was one of the “oldest” Broadway choruses I’ve ever seen. They just felt totally out of place in this show. Thinking about the movie and the story, it doesn’t really “call” for a big Broadway dancing chorus and yet Catch Me if You Can has it and a lot of it. Again, I just don’t get it.

It just wasn’t my cup of tea. But hey, look at Memphis. It won a Tony Award for Best Musical and I didn’t particularly care for that musical. While, I did see Catch Me If You Can’s first preview and things can (drastically) change before opening night, the concepts placed into the story was my least favorite part and they would need to re-write the entire script if they changed any of that. I have a feeling that it’s not going to happen.

If you “got it”, then by all means, explain to us why I should care about any of the characters, because I don’t. Otherwise, this show is going to be long-forgotten rather quickly and that’s okay by me.


11 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Catch Me If You Can” @ Neil Simon Theatre, 03/11/10

  1. Thanks for helping me avoid another Women on the Verge-like disappointment. Sound like Anything Goes would be a vastly better choice.

    1. Catch Me…was a terrific piece of quintessential Broadway. We’re as cynical as this theater reviewer but had a wonderful time and thought the whole production worked very well. If you miss it, you’ll be sorry when the Tony nominations come rolling in!

  2. Ekk! That worries me! I was really looking forward to sering this show. Well, I guess the only thing to do is see it and figure it what I thought of it too…

  3. We saw the play on 3/19 and loved it. We had seen the movie and had heard Frank Abagnale, Jr. speak several times. We were wondering how the movie could be made into a musical and we were pleasantly surprised. Go to the show and you will thoroughly enjoy the experience.
    We also saw Memphis and thought it was excellent.

  4. You didn’t talk about Aaron Tveit much, what did you think of him? Personally, I thought he was brilliant, and a real contender – if not the frontrunner – for Best Leading, come Tony time.

    I agree that the score was largely forgettable, but the two 11 o’ clock numbers were both amazing songs – and you know that both Goodbye and Fly, Fly Away are going to be the new “in” audition songs.

  5. OMG Great show!! WATCH THIS CLIP!!

    I need 1,000 viewers by April 1, 2011 (midnight) so tell everyone to check it out



  6. I assume you were ticked off by having to purchase your own tickets…The show was a knockout and will probably garner a few Tony nominations. Of course the story wasn’t designed to be a musical. But if you had a nickel for every Broadway show that fit into that category, you’d have plenty of nickels! We’re big Butz fans, and agree that his talents were underutilized, but the whole thing worked very well. Readers, ignore the negative reviews and get ready to have a very enjoyable and entertaining evening (or afternoon)!

  7. I’m a cynical New Yorker and very selective about the shows I see. I was drawn to “Catch” because I loved the movie and was curious how it could be turned into a musical. I was pleasantly surprised and thorougly won over by the excellent cast, show-stopping numbers, and the set – which included a full orchestra. Do not listen to the critics who are so out of touch when it comes to real fun entertainment; listen to me: Go see Catch Me If You Can!

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