Catch it if you can.
From the moment the curtain falls, and before we really embark on the ride of our lives through the life of con man Frank Abagnale Jr, the sixties are recreated in ties with fabulous pastel coloured sparkles. The joyful go-go dancing girls and boys jolt us into the seductiveness of a time past and to which we are ready to return.
A Cameron Mitchell production is tight with slick choreography, great group moves and a cast that looks like they’re having the time of their lives. The audience fares well too. His last production at the Hayes Theatre was Applause.
In his latest Hayes offering, Mitchell takes a story he’s been obsessed with for 17 years since he first saw the Steven Spielberg film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale Jr. It’s a great story and it makes a great musical, created by a Tony Award-winning dream team, with the book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Ragtime) and a swinging toe-tapping score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray and Smash).
Debuting on Broadway in 2011, Catch Me If You Can was not a commercial success originally, although it garnered mostly positive critical reviews and four Tony nominations. It was a big production with a big band on the stage that somewhat overshadowed the action. In this interpretation, Mitchell has made sure the story is centre stage – revolving around the relationship of the young Abagnale with his family and his girlfriend. As Mitchell says, you’re told as a youngster you can be anything you want if you put your mind to it, but Abagnale Jr takes it to a whole new level.
Learning from his con man father, Abagnale Jr takes his cons to the extreme, becoming bolder with every new idea. Jake Speer takes the lead role in this production and appears in almost every scene. Simon Burke plays his father and reminds us of his crooner credentials. When he duets with Speer in “Butter Outta Cream” it’s a true delight. Speer gives the character the youthfulness the role demands – he is a teenager and adult throughout the action – from a schoolboy impersonating a teacher, to his leaving home and deciding to become a pilot, then doctor, and finally a lawyer. It’s all in the presentation and what you tell people, his father tells him – and by swapping his jacket which first makes him believable as a teacher, to a pilot’s uniform and then a doctor’s coat, Agagnale Jnr finds it to be true.
Abagnale Jr’s nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty, is played by Tim Draxl – most recently seen in Evie May at the Hayes. Hanratty is a complex role but Draxl plays it with the right amount of pathos, strength and vulnerability, and his songs are some of the best. “Don’t break the rules” with Hanratty singing with his ‘men in black’ is one of my favourite numbers, with more than a nod to sixties choreographers like Fosse. It’s an energetic musical; the lyrics are clever and the music is a pastiche of 60s pop, funk, samba and soul with a big band production sound, and there are many moments I felt like dancing myself! The musical numbers are big and bold and cohesively tell the story of Abagnale Jr’s experiences as a pilot (Jet Set) sung by the air hostesses and pilots as a doctor (Doctor’s Orders) sung by nurses and doctors.
Like the sixties itself, the women in the cast play secondary roles – his mother, his girlfriend, his stewardesses, nurses – though all are excellent and contribute to making Catch Me If You Can a real musical success.
One of the most surprising aspects of the show was that such a seemingly commercial production was being shown in such a small theatre. I would imagine that this is one of the Hayes Productions that will earn itself another run in a bigger theatre.
The Hayes set is simple but effective, and the costumes take responsibility for recreating the era and the different cons in Abagnale’s life.
Musical supervisor Steven Kreamer goes from strength to strength and is one of the busiest in the business; seen last with Dismissal – The Musical just last month. The ensemble he has assembled here recreates a Big Band sound.
Catch Me If You Can runs until 18 August.