Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Catch Me If You Can
San Diego Musical Theatre
Review by Bill Eadie

Also see Bill's reviews of Trouble in Mind and Life Sucks

Berto Fernández and Cast
Photo by Ken Jacques
Catch Me If You Can the musical has an impressive pedigree, with Hairspray's Mark Shaiman on music, Mr. Shaiman and Scott Wittman on lyrics, and multiple Tony Award winner Terrence McNally writing the book. Yet, the show's reception on Broadway was mixed, and it lost out in the Tony competition to The Book of Mormon. Given that Mormon was a phenomenon (and is still running on Broadway more than ten years later), one might wonder if Catch Me If You Can might be a hidden gem.

I'm glad that San Diego Musical Theatre decided to mount this production to open its 2022 season and to christen a new theater space. I enjoyed the production under Allison Spratt Pearce's expert direction, but I think the mixed assessment of the Broadway version was accurate.

The story is drawn from the 2002 film that was based on the 1980 autobiography of Frank Abagnale, which itself may be of questionable veracity. It's a good story, though, about a teenager (Beau Brians) who pulls off a series of cons in the late 1960s, including posing as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer (Abagnale actually passed a bar exam and when asked how he managed to do it, replied, "I studied").

The cons attracted the attention of the FBI, and Agent Carl Hanratty (Berto Fernández) took charge of a case that required him to chase after the slippery young Mr. Abagnale, who was always on the move and often changing identity. The fun part of the story is the cat-and-mouse game between the two leads. This isn't Les Misérables, though: Abagnale is no Jean Valjean and, in turn, Hanratty is nowhere near as driven as Inspector Javert.

In fact, that's an advantage for Mr. Fernández, who gets to show off what a marvelous comedian he can be. This is the most delightful role I've seen him play, and his performance is a major reason to see this production. As his adversary, Mr. Brians exhibits an easy, boyish, charm, though he gets weighed down by a subplot involving his father, Frank Abagnale, Sr. (Paul Morgavo), and mother (Andrea Petsinger). There's also a romantic entanglement with Brenda Strong (Adelaida Martínez) and her family (Ted Leib and Debra Wanger). These forays away from the con/chase and into the personal lives of the characters are likely the source of any grumping about the musical's quality. Interestingly, the real Frank Abagnale, Jr. is still alive and working as a security consultant. Hanratty travels with a cadre of FBI agents (Joey Guerra, Dennis Peters, and Sutheshna Mani) as his wingmen.

Ms. Pearce has softened the casual sexism of the plot, but she can't do much about the bevy of chorines who high kick to Xavier J. Bush's choreography while sometimes singing, sometimes shrieking (musical direction by Richard DueƱez Morrison, to a professionally recorded set of tracks).

Producers Erin and Gary Lewis say that the current space is a temporary one and will eventually become a performance space for productions by students in the school that they operate. It's a comfortable space for these productions in the meantime, and I'll anticipate the opening of the permanent one.

Catch Me If You Can runs through March 13, 2022, at San Diego Musical Theatre's temporary home: 4650 Mercury Street, San Diego CA. Performs Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. Thursdays at 7:00 p.m. Fridays at 8:00 p.m. Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. Sundays at 2:00 p.m. The facility has parking, and street parking is readily available. For tickets and information, please visit

Ensemble: Alyssa Anne Austin, Johnisa Breault, Karina Johnson, Annika Knapp, Olivia Lucci, Liliana Rodriguez, Van Angelo, Donny Gersonde, Colby Hamann, Isaac Jackson, Marlon Magtibay, and Jupityr Shaw.
Swings: Danielle Airev and Trevor Rex

Additional creative credits: Set Design: Mathys Herbert, Lighting Design: Michelle Miles, Sound Design: Paul Durso, Costume Design: Janet Pitcher, Property Master: Heather Longfellow, Wig & Hair Design: Peter Herman, and Stage Manager: Shayne Mims.