The life of a con artist couldn’t get glitzier or more glamorous than in Catch Me If You Can, a cat-and-mouse game between FBI agent and white-collar criminal that spins the 2002 Steven Spielberg movie into a slick and stylish musical.
And while there are film noir-ish shoot-outs and two-way mirrors to catch your eyes in this Hayes Theatre Company production, behind the bells and whistles, it’s the grittier, more intimate dynamics that linger longest.
The musical starts at the end: Frank William Abagnale Jnr is finally caught red-handed in the airport. Of course, there’s much more to the story based on the real-life lawbreaker – and the fourth wall breaks down straight away as Frank cheekily looks towards the audience when Hanratty (the blundering FBI agent at his tail) tells him that he isn’t “putting on a show for these people!”
This self-reflexive wink infuses the storytelling, turning back the clock to reveal the Frank behind the fake identities of pilot, lawyer and doctor – a preppy teen, caught romanticising his mother and father’s relationship.
That’s not exactly the focus of the show, however. Terrence McNally’s book leans more heavily into the theatrics of Frank’s magnetic craftiness, revelling in his amusingly cool and duplicitous tendencies as he slips into “someone else’s skin” (and never without a big brassy musical number to go along with it).
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From its out of town try-out (2009) to its Broadway run (2011), CMIYC’s critical and commercial success was middling at best. The appeal of the show rested on the sparky pairing of Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz as Frank Jnr and Hanratty (the latter winning a Tony Award for his performance).
Beneath the stylish superficiality of Frank’s impersonations, it’s that tumultuous relationship that drives the heart of the story. Though Frank Jnr and Hanratty are arch nemeses, the unexpected parallels between their lives offer more shade to their relationship, with their respective vulnerabilities slowly opening up to each other.
When McNally’s book and Cameron Mitchell’s fine-tuned direction strip it back to basics – to a story of boys from broken families overcompensating for their loneliness – the show develops a warmer, more personal feel.
Numbers like The Man Inside the Clues and Christmas is My Favourite Time of Year extract the duo’s father-son anguish – a layer helped by Simon Burke as Frank Abagnale Snr, who often steals the spotlight with his entertainingly moving portrayal of a man descending into desperation.
Tim Draxl gives his own delicious spin to Hanratty’s hyper-obsessive exuberance while Jake Speer’s Frank Jnr hits all the high notes while encompassing the handsome charisma of the young fraudster. However, his stilted delivery doesn’t always rub off as well when a scene calls for more gravitas.
The striking design dunks the show right into the 1960s: the set design from Kelsey Lee is shiny metallic. The period costuming from Christine Mutton is chic and playful. Jasmine Rizk’s lighting design is impeccable, and it works brilliantly with the musical cues, pouring flashy colours to match the energy on stage but quickly pulling back to artful shadows and spotlights.
Moments that rely on spectacle, like Jet Set, don’t always feel at home on the Hayes’ modest stage. Lack of space restricts Cameron Mitchell’s fun, elastic choreography, particularly during larger ensemble numbers, which often consist of leggy, ornamental ladies dressed up in sultry uniform circling its star player.
The catchy, swinging pastiche score from Marc Shaiman (with lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman) fills the room without ever becoming overbearing, the big band orchestrations richly swooning under the steady musical direction of Anthony Cutrupi.
Real life and human stories are often times more complex and fascinating than glossy pretence, and that sentiment feels especially pertinent here. And this production is most comfortable when the curtains are pulled back, and the smoke and mirrors have disappeared – revealing the boy, without his performative show, playing himself true to us.