“Catch Me If You Can,” the musical, is an under-the-radar production that sometimes eludes the recognition it deserves, but that is expected to change when it runs at Cal State Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center between March 29th and April 14th.
Musical Theatre West, one of the top theatrical companies in SoCal – along with director Larry Raben, music director Dennis Castellano, and choreographer Peggy Hickey — is set to revitalize the 2011 Broadway show about the astonishingly true law-breaking exploits of con-artist Frank Abagnale Jr. in the 1960s, which earned four Tony Award nominations upon premiering, despite closing only five months after it opened.
Nonetheless, the 2002 Steven Spielberg film in which it’s based on (originally inspired by Abagnale Jr.’s 1980 autobiography) has remained culturally relevant as an oft-referenced work involving Leonardo DiCaprio as the precocious shyster with a knack for escaping authorities, none more determined than Tom Hanks’ FBI Agent Carl Hanratty (who is, an actuality, a composite of several FBI agents, most notably Joseph Shea). The two share an improbable father-son-like bond as seemingly two sides of the same coin but on opposite sides of the law.
The Terrence McNally-written and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman-scored musical similarly prioritizes Abagnale and Hanratty’s cat-and-mouse relationship, characterized by a mutual respect, as audiences become introduced to the former’s legendarily criminal past as an ingeniously crafty fraudster from ages 15 through 21, prior to his capture in 1969. In Musical Theatre West’s production of “Catch Me If You Can,” stage stars Jacob Haren (Broadway’s “The Book of Mormon”) and Jeff Skowron (Ovation Award-Winner) will portray Frank Jr. and Hanratty, respectively.
Moreover, Michael Corbett will play Abagnale, Sr. and Sandy Bainum will depict Paula Abagnale, parents to a son who more or less grew up unremarkably in New Rochelle, New York, before a traumatizing divorce adversely impacted him as an emerging adult. This spurred an unparalleled period of check forgery and clever swindling, whereupon Frank Jr. regularly altered his identity to suit various professions, one of which (as a faux chief resident supervising pediatrician in Atlanta) entails unexpectedly falling in love with nurse Brenda Strong (Katie Sapper) and becoming acquainted with her parents (Don Carfrae and Rebecca Spencer).
Yet, as thorough as the musical is in its two-and-a-half-hour runtime — inclusive of soaringly fun and insightful musical numbers such as “The Pinstripes Are All That They See,” “Jet Set,” “Life in Living Color,” “The Man Inside the Clues,” “Little Boy Be a Man,” “Fly, Fly Away,” and “Strange But True” — it would behoove future attendees to Musical Theatre West’s revival to familiarize themselves with the breadth of Abagnale’s uncanny feats, as fraudulent as they were and perhaps alleged as some are, to better inform their experience.
Belying a mythos that seems ages ago, Abagnale is very much alive and active at 70 in South Carolina, where he resides with his wife Kelly, who is credited with saving his life and nudging him along a redemptive road following a five-year prison sentence. Since becoming a free man in 1974, Abagnale has become the father of three sons, is the owner of his own security consultancy firm and is a lecturer on white-collar crime at the FBI Academy. But, before he started using his skills for the greater good of law enforcement, he led a frenzied life of opportunistic amorality, earning as much as a purported $2.5 million off bad checks.
The world felt limitless and became Abagnale’s oyster from the time he was 15 when he got away with his first con by appropriating his father’s gasoline card to purchase gas station products which were quickly returned for cash. Soon, the appeal of easy money was too tantalizing to relinquish and so he opened checking accounts under different names, overdrawing them or taking out cash advances on absent collateral. When suspicion made these endeavors more challenging, he fooled Pan Am into thinking he was a pilot, the cachet of which made his trickster ways less conspicuous. It also allowed him to take advantage of the free unlimited flights (and lodging) that pilots are allotted, flying as much as one-million miles to 26 countries (he was found to be culpable of fraud in 12 of them).
Having claimed approximately eight duplicitous identities in total, Abagnale was an experienced charlatan who impersonated, among others, a 1) supervising pediatrician (as mentioned above), who evaded questions about his competency by delegating most hospital tasks to his interns; a 2) security guard who took cash deposits by hand (after posting a sign that the drop box was out of service); a 3) sociology teaching assistant at Brigham Young University; an 4) attorney with a forged academic record from Harvard Law, though he apparently passed the Louisiana State Bar after eight weeks of studying, which procured him a job with the Louisiana State Attorney General’s office; and a 5) U.S. Bureau of Prisons agent, when in fact he was supposed to be an inmate, which allowed him to escape under the pretense of inspection work. Another just-in-time fleeing reputedly involved absconding through the lavatory of a British airliner at JFK International Airport.
Overall, most would agree that, before Frank Abagnale Jr. changed the trajectory of his destiny, he was a type of Robin Hood figure who took from banks and businesses more so for the thrill of it than intending to redistribute the funds that he finagled. That being said, in what is probably a comforting thought, he is not known to have carried out any bodily harm against another, instead using his understanding of social dynamics and human behavior to stealthily uncover vulnerabilities for his own benefit, which amounts to a suspenseful and oftentimes comedic story absolutely worth telling in Musical Theatre West’s “Catch Me If You Can.”
Other supporting roles will be played by Ricky Bulda (Agent Branton), Jeffrey Scott Parsons (Agent Parsons), and Jonathan Sangster (Agent Cod). They will be joined by a multi-talented, triple-threat ensemble.
For more information about Musical Theatre West’s “Catch Me If You Can,” please visit musical.org/catch-me-if-you-can