“Catch Me If You Can” – The Broadway Musical

I attended last night's performance of "Catch Me If You Can," a new Broadway musical with music by Marc Shaiman, book by Terrence McNally, and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, at the Neil Simon Theatre.  Interestingly, earlier yesterday the nominating committee announced that the show would be up for a Tony award as best musical and co-star Norbert Leo Butz for a Tony as best actor in a musical, but that the other co-star, Aaron Tveit, was not nominated (although he had been on the short-list of people qualified for nomination in that category this year).

First off, I have to say I fully understand by Butz was nominated, for he did a phenomenal job, as he has always done in every show in which I've seen him perform.  The guy goes all-out, is very talented, and truly absorbs his characters and expresses them on the stage without any apparent inhibition.  I thought he was fantastic.  That said, I regret that Tveit was not nominated as well.  Although the two of them are equally billed above the title, Tveit's role is longer and more demanding, and I thought his work last night was truly excellent – especially since he may well have been a bit dispirited at not having been nominated.  If he felt that way, it certainly didn't show in his energetic, accomplished performance.  He's a real trouper, and I think he has a big career ahead of him.

Performances are one thing, however, while the vehicle for the performances is another.  I greatly enjoyed Spielberg's movie of this story, starring Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hanks, based on the memoir by Frank Abagnale, Jr., about his few years as a teenage runaway impostor, forger, and con man.  The story of the musical is basically the same, and perhaps even in some ways more like the book than the movie was, and I think Terrence McNally did a great job of taking an event-filled book and movie and reducing them to the amount of action one could cover in a stage musical through the effective device of having the main character (Tveit's Frank Abnagale Jr) tell his story in retrospect.

On the other hand, I found the music thoroughly undistinguished, albeit extremely noisy and intrusive.  My theater-going companion referred to it as 'big band' stuff, and that it was.  One each of violin, viola, cello and double bass (amplified, of course) held forth against a battery of winds, percussion and keyboards, and were rarely heard above the din unless the other instruments weren't playing.  Most of the time the music was loud and brassy, and rhythmically insistent, but I didn't hear memorable melodies, and that's why I doubt this show will be a long-laster.  It is entertaining for the story and the terrific performances – supporting leads Tom Wopat, Rachel de Benedet, Linda Hart, Nick Wyman, Jay Armstrong Johnson and so on down a long list in the program, are all well cast and superb in doing what they are asked to do by director Jack O'Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell - but I don't think the music and dancing actually enhance the story to any great degree.  The production numbers are frequently unnecessary to advance the plot, and seem to be there mainly to have exciting production numbers.  The movie is sufficient on its own for projecting the dramatic qualities of this story without such musical intrusions.

Had the music been more memorable – less generic – perhaps I would think more highly of the show.  Certainly I was among those giving a standing ovation at the end, but the ovation was, from my point of view, earned by the performers.  I hope to see much more of Norbert Leo Butz and Aaron Tveit in future productions.


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