The criminal in Catch Me If You Can isn’t packing lead, he instead robbed banks the easier way, through forged checks and stolen identities. Director Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie introduced audiences to the unbelievable yet true adventures of Frank W. Abagnale Jr., a con man extraordinaire played with cherubic yet cunning innocence by Leonardo DiCaprio. And what was fun at the movies manages to also deliver its zippy goods in the musical stage version from Central New York Playhouse (running through Aug. 2).
The Broadway show had a modest six-month run in 2011, earning some Tony Award love along its way, with brand names at work (including Hairspray composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) in reshaping the movie to fit the stagebound parameters. It often does feel like a movie, too, with flashbacks and flash-forwards among its narrative devices, starting with the arrest of Abagnale (Liam Fitzpatrick) at a Miami airport, which triggers various influential episodes from the young man’s past. Turns out that Abagnale was the great pretender, able to fake his way into positions as a co-pilot, lawyer and pediatrician, thanks to his counterfeit skills that inevitably put FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Steve Gamba) on his trail.
Adapter Terrence McNally, who mined similar success from the Buffalo blue-collar strippers of The Full Monty, expands the backstories of Abagnale’s estranged parents, his larger-than-life dad (a bravura Jay Burns) and immigrant mom (Kathy Burke Egloff), as reasons for the budding fleecer’s emotional escape. And Hanratty, a dogged Javert-like pursuer, is revealed as much of a lonely soul as Frank, with McNally often supplying the fed with crucial dialogue, especially the killer line, “I never lie, Frank.”
McNally’s playful script allows the Abagnale character (and sometimes Hanratty) to break through the supposed fourth wall at every opportunity, as he often winks at the audience and even hurls song cues in music director Abel Searor’s direction. Director Greg J. Hipius maintains an effervescent bounciness even when the show stretches far past the two-hour mark, while Stephfond Brunson and Jessie Dobryzinski’s dynamic co-choreography puts the female dancers through their many paces.
But wait, there’s more, including Kasey Marie McHale’s ain’t-she-sweet moments as Frank’s true love and sideline scene-stealing from Michaela Oney and a dance-fevered Dustin Czarny as suspicious Deep South Lutherans. And for this show’s central Mutt-and-Jeff pairing, Liam Fitzpatrick’s boyish enthusiasm and terrific vocals as Frank Abagnale are a perfect foil for the well-timed, slow-burn comic antics of Steve Gamba’s Hanratty. This character’s mispronunciation of “femme fatale” just might be the comic highlight of the stage season.