Friday, February 15, 2013
Theater review: Run, jump, fly to Catch Me If You Can at Dallas Summer Musicals
In an ocean of tiresome, old musicals being mounted year after year, this new musical will quench your thirst for something new.
DALLAS Thanks to the advancement of technology, any gossip, scandal, and especially celebrity buzz, is immediately forced fed into social media. The internet, blogs, Hollywood gossip sites, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter gorge the public with a never ending barrage of the latest, up to the minute scandal of the moment. That story becomes a scorching blaze, but then like a gush of water, that story is doused out thanks to a much bigger scandal that pops up.
Just a few weeks ago, the nation was all caught up in the scandal involving Norte Dame Football player Manti Te'o getting "catfished." The term catfish derives from a documentary in which a photographer fell for a gorgeous girl on the internet.
They spent hours on the phone, exchanged endless emails, text messages, and facebook conversations, to the point that he fell in love with her. But something didn't seem right. He drove from New York to rural Michigan. He did not meet the beautiful girl he saw in the pictures, but instead met a much older woman who had children with disabilities and who was depressed and lonely.
She had fabricated this new identity to find "love" to take her away from her real life.
Scams are nothing new. Just look at Enron and Wall Street. People pretending to be someone else are not a rare occurrence. It happens all the time. Dateline, 20/20, and 48 Hours shows that all the time on TV. And let's not forget the horrors of what Craigslist has done in regards to strangers meeting strangers, only to be fooled. Or worse, get robbed or murdered.
As an actor, that is what we do on the stage boards every night, pretend to be someone else. But in real life, there are much greater consequences. What makes a person want to become a completely different person? A new name? Identity? Job? Career? Have a new wife, husband, or lover? A new family? What are the rewards, sacrifices, and consequences in becoming a completely different person in society; to lie 24 hours a day. Well, take a gander over at Dallas Summer Musicals right now because you can see such a story as they bring the national tour of the Tony nominated musical Catch Me If You Can to the Music Hall.
The musical had its birth as a reading in 2005. Directed by Jack O'Brien, who had the leading roles portrayed by Tony winner Nathan Lane, Tom Wopat, Brandon Wardell and Matthew Morrison of Glee fame.
In July 2007 more workshops were done, again with O'Brien at the helm. The creative team brought back Lane, Wopat, and Wardell. Christian Borle (currently on NBC's Smash) took over the role portrayed by Morrison.
Other workshops brought in such talent as Aaron Tveit (who can currently be seen in the Oscar nominated film Les Miserables), Norbert Leo Butz, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Sara Gettelfinger (who was in Dallas earlier this year in The Addams Family), and Smash lead Katharine McPhee.
The musical was originally scheduled to premiere in July 2009 at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, with Jack O'Brien as director and choreography by Jerry Mitchell. This would be the same theater where O'Brien, Mitchell, and the show's composers would have their out of town try out of their musical Hairspray. And we all know how that musical turned out!
Tragically, the first week of previews were cancelled due to an horrific tragedy involving Norbert Leo Butz's beloved sister. Butz took over the role that Lane did in the workshops. The musical would finally premiere on July 28, 2009.
With an armful of mostly positive reviews, the company headed for Broadway, settling down at the Neil Simon Theatre (where oddly enough Hairspray also called home while on the Great White Way).
Catch Me If You Can opened in April 2011, closing in September of that same year after 166 performances. It did earn four Tony nominations, including Best Musical, and garnered Butz the award for Best Actor in a Musical. It would lose Best Musical to the mega smash Book of Mormon.
The musical is based on the 2002 film of the same name which starred Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Directed by Steven Spielberg, it follows the story of con man Frank Abagnale, Jr. and the FBI agent who is hunting him down. Terrence McNally's libretto is based both on the film and on Abagnale's 1980 autobiography.
McNally's book uses the Spielberg film as the outer shell to build his story. While the film focuses on the thrilling chase, McNally instead fills in the shell with a mixture of comedy and harsh reality, showing us why Frank Jr. did what he did. It is more of a story of two men, Frank Jr. and Agent Carl Hanratty, and their relationships with their own fathers, or lack of. Frank has a father who was also always chased by the government (IRS), always thinking of schemes and fast buck ideas, while Hanratty has a cruel father who showed no compassion and used him, as a boy, like an emotional punching bag.
Catch Me If You Can is yet another musical that uses a motion picture as its subject material, a theme that has now become common on Broadway. For the national tour, the original creators took the material and again changed it around. They took some of the scenes from the out of town tryout and reinserted them into this tour. I must admit my first thought was, "The movie was `eh'. Fun, sure. But a musical? Oh dear." Talk about shutting me up and reminding me to walk into shows with a clear, open mind.
The musical is chock full of laughter. But the book is remarkably emotional and doused with glaring reality of what the lack of having a father does to a boy, as well as what you must pay emotionally for your actions. McNally's book really avoids the mistakes many book writers who tackle transforming hit movies into a stage musical make, the end result being a fascinating yet emotional book.
Marc Shaiman's music and his and Scott Wittman's lyrics pay homage to those 60s television shows, especially variety shows. Think Mitzi Gaynor (which the opening number resembles), Dean Martin, Laugh-In, and other musical variety shows from that era. The score (which I have never heard) is spectacular. There are some slight hints of their mega smash hit Hairspray sprinkled within the score that I did pick up. But the songs slide beautifully into McNally's book. They expose rich, emotional subtext for the characters. It isn't the dreaded ol' "book, scene change, song, dance break" that has killed many a recent musical lately. They spring out naturally throughout the evening. There are a couple of songs that are a tad lackluster. But the majority of the score is fresh, dynamic, and zestful.
Some of my personal favorites from the score include "Live in Living Color", "Jet Set", "Don't Break the Rules", "Doctor's Orders",
"Little Boy, Be A Man", "Seven Wonders", "Fly, Fly away", and "Good-Bye".
Jack O'Brien's direction is flawless. He keeps everything gliding and swirling around with ease. The pace is perfection. It also keeps the exposition moving at great speed, but then allows the more emotional moments to slow down and breathe. He grounds the acting to be truthful, organic and realistic. The two leading men roles could have easily gone into vaudeville territory, but instead are firmly planted in realism.
Jerry Mitchell's choreography is eye candy galore! In the press packet he states he did tons of research by viewing hundreds of hours of those classic 1960s variety shows to get the moves and looks down just right - and boy does he succeed! The choreography is so finely detailed with precise hand and leg positions, and also so vigorous. Mitchell's choreography just sparkles in every single number. The formations and patterns he creates are like finding new diamonds in a coal mine. I kept saying to myself, "Oh wow!", because it just looked so elegant, fun, flashy, and new. It isn't rehashed stuff other new musicals seem to fall into. I love the choreography that Mitchell created here!
Okay, so you have a terrific array of book, score, direction, and choreography - now what? Well, you add to that a plethora of sublime design elements.
William Ivy Long has become one of my favorite costume designers of Broadway shows. He has created costumes that remind me at times of the late Theoni Aldridge, MGM's Adrian, and the great Edith Head. But Long has his own "voice" as well. The piece is set in the 60s, so the costumes reflect that right down to the accessories. There are no big, elaborate gowns or fantasy costumes per se, but slick, tailored suits for the men and tasteful dresses for the ladies. Long does know how to show off the curves of a lady. The costumes for the Pan Am Flight attendants and the nurses are sexy and sensual. Long, after all, did create the now iconic, sizzling, slinky black costumes for the Chicago revival that is still playing. So you see that as well here. Every curve is slathered in tight satins, silks, and even cotton. You know you're a genius when you make cotton look sexy and hot!
Kenneth Posner's lighting is amazing. So much color! There are hues splashed on the stage that I've never seen. His use of emotional lighting enhances some of the darker moments within the show, such as scenes with Frank Jr. and his father, and Frank Sr. with Agent Carl. There is also a scene in which Frank Jr. is on the phone with Agent Carl, telling him it's all over, that he is getting married and wants to end this chase. Carl is blanketed in blue hues, resembling cold, bitter Washington weather, while Frank Jr. is bathed in glowing, warm gold hues, giving us the Louisiana heat where he was calling from. But when both men exchange blocking on stage, instantly the colors go with them. I live for lighting design like this.
But the stars of the design are Video System and Content Designer Bob Bonniol and Scenic Designer David Rockwell. The main two components of the set, on center stage, is a massive swooping arch (looks like a rollercoaster) where the orchestra is placed. Rockwell then has various clean, classic set pieces, all in period, float from the wings and the fly rail. Bonniol, meanwhile, has this humongous LED wall creating a myriad of moving images that are so bold in color! And the designs he creates for not only the book scenes but for the musical numbers as well is just mind blowing. Both designers worked arm and arm with Posner's lighting, so all night long it is a feast for the eyes in what these three men create here.
I've written many times before in reviews, an ensemble can make or break a show. If they look bored, don't know the choreography, or are not in the moment, it will show and the audience will sense it. The ensemble for Catch Me If You Can is none of that! Having the delightful pleasure of sitting in the very front row (The Music Hall covered the orchestra pit to add audience members, as they did this summer with La Cage Aux Folles), I got a close up view of every facial expression and choreography execution from the ensemble.
Their energy is as bright and dazzling as Bonnoil's LED back wall. But where did they get these triple talents? The men look like graduates of the Bradley Cooper Handsome Modeling Academy while the ladies looked like they arrived from the Kate Upton Sports Illustrated/ Heidi Klum Runway School for Girls! And let me tell you, those girls have more long legs than a bucket of chicken! But their singing and acting equal that of their leads. They each are invested in every scene. Several in the ensemble have vocal solos in several songs, and their pristine vocals are delicious to hear. Their execution of the choreography is phenomenal. Never out of sync, each hand, leg, and head movement is in perfect harmony.
This outstanding ensemble are Michael Graceffa, Trevor Leaderbrand, Taylor Collins, Nadia Vynnytsky, Vanessa Dunleavy, Allyson Tolbert, Mary Claire King, Colleen Hayes, and Daniel J. Self.
The cast is a mosaic array of impeccable performances, including Caitlin Maloney as Paula (Frank's mother), Dominic Fortuna as Frank Sr., and D. Scott Withers and Amy Burgmaier as Roger and Carol Strong. Each of these actors has a major song to sing, and they deliver them with panache and vocal vitality. Maloney does a lustful rendition of "Don't Be a Stranger" (in a French dialect!) with three handsome ensemble men. Fortuna embodies the pain, loss, and shame of a father who lost it all. His scenes with his son are truthful and very in the moment. He has several songs that he executes with just the right emotion. Withers and Burgmaier have wicked fun with the comedic number "Family Tree". They portray the rich, Louisiana high society parents of Brenda, with whom Frank Jr. falls in love. Both actors drip in honey dew southern drawls that result in hearty laughs. Their mannerisms and comedic timing make you feel as though their mansion was a stone's throw from the Peckerwood/Burnside plantation from Mame!
Travis Mitchell (Agent Branton), Ben Laxton (Agent Dollar), and Derrick Parks (Agent Cod) add plenty of laughs as Hanratty's fellow agents. They try to play off like slick members of the famous Rat Pack, but they instead become The Three Stooges with their hysterical antics and comedic talents.
Aubrey Mae Davis portrays Brenda, a character that doesn't appear until Act Two. This is the girl who Frank Jr. falls for and wants so desperately to leave his suitcase of lies and emotional baggage behind because of her. Davis has a beautiful expressive face that just melts your heart like butter on a stack of pancakes. Her stage presence and her sweet demeanor in the role sincerely show why Frank Jr. wants to change his life, thanks to Davis's acting craft. But then along comes her one solo, "Fly, Fly Away." WHOA! Talk about a ballad that you want to hear over and over again. It begins a cappella, then slowly builds layer upon layer of vocal transitions and key changes, which Davis's gorgeous soprano voice glides on sublimely. She peels so deep into the lyrics that her subtext bleeds through. It is a mesmerizing performance that Ms. Davis achieves here.
Merritt David Janes nails the role of Agent Carl Hanratty, the role Tom Hanks played in the film and Butz originated on Broadway. Janes does look a little like Butz physically, but that's where the similarities end. Janes' comedic timing, pace and delivery is smooth as silk. He has some terrific one liners, but instead of pouncing on them and force feeding them to the audience, he lets them pour out like a cool glass of whiskey. He executes the right pause, the right tilt of the eye, and bang-hits the audience with a cool comic zinger. His rendition of "Don't Break All the Rules" is a show stopper.
But it is his more intimate solos and duets that really make his characterization steer far away from being one note. This includes his Act One solo, "The Man Inside the Clues", and his duet with Frank Sr. called "Little Boy, Be a Man". While the latter has some great comedic lines, Janes presents dark honesty in his facial expressions to show the embarrassment of how his father treated him. Janes performance is so original that you completely forget about Hanks. Janes is peerless in this production.
I have seen so many national tours all over this great country. But there are times when you see an actor in those tours that are so powerful that I say in print and to friends, "That performer will be a star on Broadway soon". I said that about Andrew Rannells when he came through Dallas in the first national tour of Jersey Boys with DSM. In my review of Give It up I said that of Patti Murin and Liz Mikel. I said that about Audra McDonald when she was in The Secret Garden, also at DSM. I again said the same about Sutton Foster when she played the "Star to be" solo in the number "NYC" from a national tour I saw of Annie. I predict the same fate for Stephen Anthony as Frank Abagnale, Jr.
Anthony hardly ever leaves the stage. He has several costume changes in the middle of big, heavily-choreographed production numbers. His role is assigned a trunk load of solos, duets and full company numbers.
But then there's that very complicated, emotional arc that his character crests on. He has to make the audience truly believe he is only sixteen years old and turns twenty one by the finale. He goes through some hysterical book scenes, but then also must return to painful, gut wrenching dramatic work in several key scenes. Now, add romance, dancing, and a score that has his tenor voice belting and soaring high. That's a mammoth task for any actor. But damn it, does this boy succeed!
Anthony has pretty boy looks that make him look angelic and effervescent. The second the spotlight hits him, his stage presence fills the cavernous Music Hall. In fact, Anthony's talents and stage presence are so blinding that he doesn't need a spotlight at all!
His comedic talents are spot on throughout the evening. There's a slight veil of Finch from H ow To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at times in his characterization. His facial expressions add another layer of comedic success. His timing, pace, and delivery never dims or misses the comedic mark.
Vocally, he is sensational! His is a crystal pure tenor voice with a potpourri of pop, jazz, and Broadway belt. His vibrato is synchronized
in soothing harmony with his tenor vocals. Several songs have him go from baritone then tenor, while in the middle there is a dash of pop, all the while doing key changes all over the music sheet. And he achieves vocal glory in every song, from his first big number "Live in Living Color" to "Jet Set", "Butter Outta Cream", "Seven Wonders" and "Strange But True".
But Anthony is given the great gift of having the 11:00 o'clock number
"Good-Bye". This is a remarkable composition of music and lyric. It brings out all the subtext in Frank Jr., and Anthony grasps you by your shirt to feel his fear, loss, and pain. He belts to the balcony with that beautiful tenor voice and makes this solo the best musical number of the night.
His chemistry with his fellow actors greatly enhances his acting tools
and characterization. His love for his father grips your heart. His passion for Brenda is so clear and honest. The disappointment of his mother is so vivid. The relationship with Hanratty is so vital to the book. What the creators wanted to come out in this complicated relationship is very tricky. It's not just cops and robbers. It's a boy looking for a father figure and a man looking for the son he didn't have. It's a heavy subtext that Anthony achieves with superior results.
People in the balcony may have not noticed, but in that final scene at the airport where Frank Jr. is finally caught by Hanratty, Anthony has his back to him and the fear in his eyes shows it all, tears brimming in his eyes. But then he turns to him and shows that he's still strong. But when he finally comes to the realization of what is going to happen to him, he breaks down, tears streaming down his face. He goes from dashing airline pilot/ doctor/lawyer/con artist to a frightened, lost boy in a split second. His acting here is extraordinary. You so feel for him as he sobs when he sees the silver cuffs in Hanratty's hands. It is a breathtaking, powerful dramatic scene. I was completely blown away by Anthony's performance. He carries this musical with unbelievable talent. You will want to see this young man on stage NOW at Dallas Summer Musicals because I predict that in a few short years he will be on Broadway receiving a Tony Award nomination. Mark my words!
Thank God for Dallas Summer Musicals for bringing a fresh, new, exciting Broadway musical to Texans. Catch Me If You Can is something that musical theater addicts like me crave desperately. In an ocean of tiresome, old musicals being mounted year after year, this new musical will quench your thirst for something new. It has everything you want – a remarkable book, a sparkling score, dazzling design elements and a marvelous cast.
So call DSM airlines and book a first class ticket to Catch Me If You Can. They ain't serving peanuts with this production; they're serving a gourmet feast complete with dessert!
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