Catch Me If You Can: Orpheus shines with inferior material

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Photo: Orpheus Theatre

Catch Me If You Can is a trifle of a musical based on a trifle of a movie from Steven Spielberg. It’s scarcely worth doing, but it is redeemed somewhat by Orpheus Musical Theatre Society’s ability to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The production currently at Centrepointe features deftly staged musical numbers, performances that manage to engage, and a rollicking narrative thrust. In other words, it’s good enough to make you forget, at least temporarily, how hollow the material really is.

It’s based on the real-life story of youthful con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. who, more than half a century ago, was running the FBI ragged with a succession of audacious capers that saw him impersonate an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and show further dexterity as a cheque forger to the tune of millions of dollars. There’s a coda to his story that some may find uplifting and others ironic: after doing time for his crimes, Abagnale became a respectable citizen and a renowned FBI consultant on fraud.

But how well do we get to know Frank? The book for this musical was written by Terrence McNally, an accomplished award-winning playwright, but it’s workmanlike rather than illuminating, a minor work compared to his triumphant script for another musical, Ragtime, or his award-winning play, Love! Valour! Compassion! There is little depth to any character — and that includes Frank, despite Andy Allen-McCarthy’s winning performance in the current production.

Back in 2002, when the Spielberg film was released, actor Leonardo DiCaprio revealed that he had spent a lot of time in the company of Abagnale, trying to get his measure. “He has a way of drawing you in and making you feel at ease with him and trust him,” DiCaprio said. “He seems as innocent as a school teacher.”

These qualities are there in Allen-McCarthy’s genial performance for Orpheus. There’s an outgoing charm here — the charm that can lure the unsuspecting. Indeed one suspects that he would be outstanding as the upwardly mobile J. Pierrepont Finch, should Orpheus ever decide to do Frank Loesser’s How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, a genuinely good musical.

But as this young performer moves adroitly through the current production, striving to bring some depth to his character, and determined to give Frank’s pallid signature tune, Live In Living Color, as much support as possible during its various incarnations, he really can’t convey much understanding of what made Frank really tick. There’s not enough in McNally’s book to allow him do do so.

These deficiencies also hobbled the Spielberg film, although it did give greater heed to Frank’s troubled early life, and particularly his relationship with his father, than did the subsequent musical. At the Centrepointe, Jason Swan takes the role of Frank Abagnale Sr. as far as the script will allow him, and Trish Cleyn has some powerhouse musical moments as Frank’s mother. But there’s a recurring brittleness to all the characters.

The other principal character, F.B.I. Agent Carl Hanratty, has his cliche elements, but his is perhaps the most fully written role, and Rob Henderson brings a sweaty, frustrated credibility to his performance and firmly establishes his musical credentials with his robust rendition of Don’t Break The Rules.

But really, the songs are forgettable. Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did much better with their knowing, witty songbook for Hairspray than they do here where there is a sameness to too many of the musical numbers. To be sure, when an accomplished performer like Kate Boone (in the role of Frank’s girlfriend) tackles a number like Fly, Fly Away, there’s an emotional impact that the material doesn’t really deserve — but moments later that impact has evaporated into nothing.

Ultimately, Orpheus Musical Theatre is the real star of the evening — starting with Debbie Guilbeault’s lively direction and choreography. The show has something of a night club setting with an onstage band framed against an attractive art deco backdrop created by designer Sally McIntyre. It’s here that Frank tells us the story of his life after having been captured at the very beginning by his tireless pursuers. The musicians, under musical director Wendy Berkelaar, establish their credentials immediately — they’re excellent. Jenn Donnelly’s costumes and Amber Hood’s lighting design further contribute to the evening’s slick-professionalism. Nevertheless, the show itself is at its best second-tier entertainment.

Catch Me If You Can

Book: Terrence McNally

Music: Marc Shaiman

Lyrics: Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman

Based On the Dreamworks film

Continues at Centrepointe Theatre to  March 19.

Director/choreographer: Debbie Guilbeault

Musical director: Wendy Berkelaar

Set: Sally McIntyre

Lighting: Amber Hood

Sound: John Cybanski

Costumes: Jenn Donnelly

 

Cast:

Frank Abagnale Jr……………………Andy Allen-McCarthy

Carl Hanratty…………………………Rob Henderson

Frank Abagnale Sr……………………Jason Swan

Agent Branton……………………….Sean Brennan

Agent Cod……………………………Blair Laugher

Agent Dollar…………………………Adam Moscoe

Roger Strong…………………………Jonathan Harris

Paula Abagnale………………………Trish Cleyn

Brenda Strong……………………….Kate Boone

Carol Strong…………………………Joyce Landry

Cheryl Ann………………………… .Stefania Wheelhouse

 

Ensemble: Johanne Boisvenu-Henry, Samantha Clarke, Jillian Conway, DeNeige Dojack, Gord Guest, Evan Huus, Chris O’Gorman, Matthew Penner, Sam Pomerant, Trenton Poulin, Trisha Presley, Mirana Rambelo, Julia Redfern, Katie Shapiro, Nolla Timmins, Nina Vuleta.


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