Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Catch Me if You Can

Like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Catch Me if You Can fills me with inertia. The second act is better than the first, but everything about it should be better. Sure, Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz throw their all at what they're given, but I was still bored. After holding his own in Next to Normal opposite the formidable Alice Ripley, it's clear Tveit has the charisma and the pipes to carry a musical. Just not this one.

Both actors are charming and funny and sound great, but I just don't care what happens to either of them. The stakes are too low (and not just because we've all seen the movie). Tveit plays larger-than-life Frank Abagnale Jr. in a very understated, natural way, which would be lovely with a better script and if it weren't a completely different style from Butz's over-the-top bumbling FBI agent Carl Hanratty. Pratfalls aren't really my favorite kind of humor, but I'm also disturbed that the too-glib tone glosses over the very real effects that con artists have on the people they swindle and, in this case, on patients who might have been endangered by Abagnale posing as an emergency room supervisor. And rather than dragging down the show, more dramatic material might help the jokes land better.

For me, Tom Wopat is the standout of the show, perhaps partially because Abagnale's smary, boozy father has the only serious scenes and suffers the only real consequences in the show. Also, Wopat has amazing stage presence and a great, booming voice. I know he's been in several Broadway shows before, with good reviews, but I had only ever seen him in reruns of The Dukes of Hazzard, so his charismatic performance in Catch Me is a brilliant surprise. His descent over the course of the show is inevitable but sad. Kudos for making me wish, just a little bit, that he wouldn't get what he deserved. (And for wishing Jr. would.)

I like David Rockwell's set design (other than the cheesy cutout plane) and love his cool, mobile onstage home for the fantastic orchestra. William Ivey Long's costume design bores me to tears and makes no sense to me. Toward the end of the show I realized that he is carrying through an all-white theme for the ensemble women (even in their first big number, "Live in Living Color"!). And while I don't really understand it as a choice (imagine the great, colorful '60s-inspired dresses that could have been used!), I would be less disappointed if the great white parade weren't interrupted by the Pan Am women wearing pastel blue flight uniforms. And to be exceedingly picky, the satin nurse uniforms may be the ugliest, cheapest-looking costumes I've ever seen on stage (including high school productions).

The vocal performances are powerful, and the sound from the orchestra is joyous and full, but I remember none of Marc Shaiman's bland music or Scott Wittman's lackluster lyrics.Terrence McNally's book is superficial and dissatisfying, and the too-frequent breaking of the fourth wall at first seems like a good way to hold the story together but descends into lazy, wink-wink storytelling.

After initially being excited about the show because I love Tveit and Butz and was curious to see Kerry Butler (so underused that it's not worth discussing), I lowered my expectations based on word-of-mouth. I was still disappointed, but the show isn't awful. There's enough there to be fun for the once-a-year tourist looking for a big Broadway musical. But given all the talent involved, it should have been much, much better.

Seriously, how do you make a boring musical about the country's most famous con man? (In the same way you make a musical about Australian drag queens boring, I guess.) The hard emotional, racial, and socioeconomic issues lurking within fun shows like A Chorus Line, Billy Elliot, In the Heights, and Passing Strange make those stories richer without zapping the joy and spectacle out of them. These shows expect more of their audiences and are more satisfying for it.

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