Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of She Loves Me
The 2011 musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, music by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman, was based on a 2002 movie directed by Steven Spielberg, inspired by the life of Frank Abagnale Jr. (Christian Thompson). As depicted here, teenage Frank ran away when his contentious parents (Jeff McCarthy, Stephanie Pope Lofgren) divorced and, over a few years, conned his way into jobs as a Pan American Airways pilot, a consulting physician in a hospital, and a lawyer. He also lived well by passing bad checks worth millions of dollars.
Director Molly Smith explains in her program notes that this production differs from the Broadway production with the addition of previously unused songs and the use of a different draft of the book by McNally, who died in 2020. Parker Esse's choreography borrows from styles of the era while playing up the larger-than-life staging concept, with vibrant orchestral accompaniment conducted by Laura Bergquist.
Frank tells his story in the form of a 1960s television special, complete with vivid scenery designed by Alexander Dodge, showbizzy lighting by Nicole Pearce, and eye-filling period costumes by Alejo Vietti. (Since this is Frank's show, the minor characters are played by a company of "Players" who, when not portraying a specific role, wear shirts and mini-dresses that resemble Mondrian canvases.)
Thompson, a charmer and a fleet dancer and singer, is onstage almost constantly as Frank uses his boyish charm and his growing comfort with not saying too much (if other people think he's an airline pilot, let them) to accomplish his dreams. Many of these involve access to beautiful young women, whether stewardesses, nurses, or customer service workers. Meanwhile, hard-headed FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Nehal Joshi, hilarious as a straight arrow with no life outside his job) leads a task force devoted to tracking down the mysterious, shape-shifting con man.
McCarthy conveys both the charming façade of a man who thinks he can create his own reality and the hollowness underneath, while Pope Lofgren is sultry as a sophisticated Frenchwoman living in the New York suburbs. Hayley Podschun is sweet and radiant as the young woman who changes Frank's life, with Rhett Guter and Alexandra Frohlinger as her almost too cheerful parents.
Catch Me If You Can runs through April 17, 2022, at Arena Stage, Fichandler Stage, Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
Book by Terrence McNally