Can you just imagine the things Frank Abagnale Jr. could do if he were an enterprising teenager in the 21st Century? The charming, conniving and cunning young man would likely rule the world. But, barring the creation of a time machine (and I don't see that happening anytime soon) to upend the space/time continuum, we must content ourselves to learning more about the man and his motivations via Catch Me If You Can, the high-spirited and just-plain-fun musical now onstage at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center's Andrew Jackson Hall through Sunday, January 27.
Based on the Dreamworks motion picture that starred Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, the stage version hews pretty closely to the story as we know it, thanks to Terrence McNally's spot-on book and terrific music by Marc Shaiman-with clever lyrics by Scott Wittman and Shaiman-that perfectly captures the early 1960s zeitgeist in tone and delivery. The show's Broadway run might have been disappointing to the show's creative team, producers and its loyal fan following, but you can rest assured that it will live on for years to come in the countless regional, community and college productions that will be upcoming.
Stylistically, Catch Me If You Can has a period flavor to augment its clear and compelling storyline and intriguing characters, all of whom come alive under the imaginative direction of Jack O'Brien, whose vision remains intact in the touring company's version. Meanwhile, Jerry Mitchell's wonderfully evocative choreography-with all its Las Vegas-infused flair and jaw-dropping Broadway skill that is performed by a bevy or gorgeous showgirls and handsome chorus boys-helps to elevate the material beyond all expectations.
With a fresh-faced cast of young actors, who are given ample support by the more seasoned actors in the cast, the characters are winningly portrayed, making them completely accessible and all the more attractive. You're hard-pressed not to fall under the thrall of Frank Jr.'s mesmerizing charm, his ability to spin a yarn off the cuff dazzling you in the process.
Clearly, Stephen Anthony (playing Abagnale) has tremendous stage presence, riveting your attention from his very first appearance onstage-and he manages to keep you interested throughout the show's two acts, which are presented as a televised spectacle, circa mid-1960s, in a quick-moving manner that propels the action ever forward. Anthony's broad smile and ability to sell a song ensures that you're on Frank Jr.'s side even when you know he's a manipulative scofflaw. His interactions with his co-stars, particularly Dominic Fortuna as his father, Frank Sr., and Aubrey Mae Davis as his sweetheart Brenda Strong, gives Anthony the opportunity to add more color and shading to his portrayal that, again, makes Frank all the more accessible.
Playing opposite Anthony as Carl Hanratty-the dogged and determined G-man who is the Javert to Abagnale's Jean Valjean-the multi-talented Merritt David Janes shows off his own considerable talents (and more than a little charm himself) as he pursues an end to Abagnale's nefarious schemes. Janes imbues Carl with a hint of pathos that makes his determination all the more palatable, winning over legions of his own fans.
As song and dance men-and make no mistake about it, both Anthony and Janes personify that Broadway ideal-the two leading men are nothing short of spectacular. Anthony's youthful mien makes him totally believable as a 16-year-old boy pretending to be older and more experienced, while Janes' unsmiling diffidence are the very picture of a more mature character. But when they sing, they take us to a different level of entertainment, their gorgeous voices giving the Shaiman/Wittman score and lyrics their due in the process. Anthony's performance of "Good-Bye," the show's penultimate number, is likely to leave you misty-eyed and the show's final number ("Strange But True") showcases both men in a recap of what comes after "the end."