Catch Me If You Can: Truth Stranger than Fiction

Roy Zhu

I was honestly pleasantly surprised by “Catch Me if You Can”. Ahead of the musical’s debut in November, there were a lot of rumors circulating about a frustrating number of chaotic events happening in the course of its production—the abrupt departure of the musical’s director, a lack of rehearsal time, technical stage issues. In the whirlwind of self-deprecating comments (and perhaps in the excitement of being able to deliver a more scathing review than normal), I forgot to give “Catch Me If You Can” the benefit of the doubt. Nevertheless, I committed to seeing the musical (I could, so I caught it). And I’m glad I did, and I’m even gladder than I can give an honest, positive review.

First, I feel it’s necessary to give a little bit of backstory, especially for this musical because the premise is so unbelievable. In the late 60s, a 16-year-old Frank Abagnale, Jr. was able to successfully defraud the U.S. government for millions of dollars by conning his way through jobs as a pilot, doctor, and lawyer—for five years. And, just like the old adage “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, he was later hired by the very people he had run from—the FBI—as a consultant to catch fraudsters like himself. In the musical, Frank begs the audience to join him as he tells his story his way, complete with flashing lights, line dancers, and jazz orchestra, demonstrating what happens when we cross that fine line between fantasy and reality.

The set design was simpler this year than perhaps in past productions, with fewer fancy hidden movements and less use of areas outside the stage. Simple worked though, and it worked fairly well—the curtain didn’t fall once between scenes, and any set changes were swift and unobtrusive. I also thought the set was reminiscent of one of those triple-camera, cheery, 50s era sitcoms with the symmetric, pyramidal set-piece used in three portions (notably when Frank introduces his father and Cheryl Ann). Much of the time, the action that takes place seems perfectly suited to be broadcast out of a mid-century “tube in a cube” TV (until the ensemble jumps in and breaks the illusion), which brings us to costume and set decor—arguably the most impressive behind-the-scenes aspect of the show. The oversaturated, over-sweet color scheme of the costume and set not only perfectly captured the feeling and vibrancy of the 1950s and 60s, but it also resembled Frank Jr’s fraudulent, masked personality. The decoration also helped to bring to life a simpler stage setup—all in all, a very strong performance by those who weren’t actively performing.

Once again, a pit orchestra was brought in to bring the musical’s soundtrack to life—this time, with freshman J.P. Haber on tenor saxophone, alongside a number of other significantly older professional musicians. The musical accompaniment was (as it so often is) very good, very loud, and just slightly stronger than the actors’ microphones. Aside from that and a couple of small technical errors (accidental live mics, a classic), the night generally went smoothly—a benefit of watching the musical in the second week as well.

In general, the acting and singing were superb, and I appreciated the appearance of new actors less featured from past performances. In particular, Cal Noonan ‘21 made Frank, Senior look more like Frank Sinatra in his slow, sleazy jazz numbers. I was also surprised by the number of accents showcased in the musical, with my favorite being Brady Connolly’s comically thick Chicago accent as the bumbling Agent Branton. The comedic side of this musical was anchored in one-liners, slapstick, and (my favorite) double entendres that were just subtle enough to excuse how dirty they were.

Apart from the typically showy jazz numbers, there were a few songs that stuck out to me. In “Little Boy, Be a Man”, the blunt message of fathers passing down hurt and coldness to sons who idolize them was perhaps the most poignant moment of the night, foreshadowing the empathetic emotions that lead to Frank, Jr. getting a second chance in the FBI. And while Thomas Potts ‘20 sang wonderfully all night, I particularly enjoyed “Seven Wonders” because it broke a string of overly flamboyant numbers with a pure, sweet melody that captured Frank finally and honestly expressing his emotions for Brenda. Alana McDermott’s portrayal of Brenda Strong built up slowly to the beautiful and emotional singing in “Fly, Fly Away”, a highlight for her character that went above and beyond my expectations.

All in all, I think what summed up the night best was a small moment of creativity: after sneaking out of the Strong house, Frank (Thomas Potts) runs behind the curtain, an exaggerated silhouette sharply visible right under his pursuers’ noses—a hilarious, unscripted, creative gesture that exemplified how the Dever players made the best out of an imperfect situation.