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'Catch Me If You Can' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

April 13, 2011 |  7:00 am

Catch

"Catch Me If You Can," the new musical based on the Steven Spielberg movie from 2002 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, landed at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway this week amid high creative and financial expectations.

The production features a top-line Broadway artistic team, many of whom worked together on the mega-hit "Hairspray," including director Jack O'Brien and songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The book, by playwright Terrence McNally, follows the adventures of Frank Abagnale Jr. (Aaron Tveit), a con artist who poses as an airplane pilot, doctor and lawyer, while also forging millions in checks.

Abagnale is trailed by an FBI agent, Carl Hanratty (Norbert Leo Butz), who follows his suspect in an around-the-globe chase.

The musical opened at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre in 2009, in a production that starred many of the same principal cast members. The original Dreamworks movie featured a screenplay by Jeff Nathanson, based on Abagnale's memoirs written with Stan Redding.

Critics' reactions so far have been guarded and lukewarm, with some expressing mild disappointment in the high-flying musical.

Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wrote that "'Catch Me If You Can' really should have made a great musical, especially given the talents involved in its conversion. But the show had to have more trust in the story." Like many screen-to-stage adaptations, the musical "fundamentally struggles with how to stage more plot than time and space allow." 

The New York Times' Ben Brantley wrote that despite the overall polish of the production, the show "mostly just seems to stand in one place, explaining itself." The musical score also fails to impress, consisting largely of "pastiches of music from television variety shows — of both the Mitch Miller and Dean Martin kinds — a form that is dangerously close to lounge and elevator music."

Joe Dziemianowicz of the New York Daily News called the musical "tasty but buried under empty calories... [it] aims for the clouds but only occasionally gets there." For much of the time, "the musical feels "overstuffed," with the story moving "unsteadily between hijinks and serious drama. With Frank's story, the FBI agent's story and Frank's girlfriend's family's story, it's just too much."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney wrote that the musical's problems can be traced to the 2002 movie on which it is based: "[Frank is] an elusive character, which is a great quality in a con man, but not always so great in a musical-theater protagonist." Another problem is that the protagonist's self-realization "comes less through Frank himself than through Brenda (Kerry Butler), the young nurse with whom he falls in love." Tveit is charming and he "makes it easy to like Frank, even if the show makes it hard to love him."

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-- David Ng

Photo: Aaron Tveit in the musical "Catch Me If You Can," at the Neil Simon Theatre in New York. Credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press


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