Premiering on Broadway in 2011, Catch Me If You Can is a newer musical, following the story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a famous con artist who came to notoriety after his true story was published in his 1980 autobiography of the same name. The 2002 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks also brought Abagnale’s story to the spotlight, and in 2005 work on the musical began with Terrance McNally writing the book, with the music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. After its premiere, the Broadway production received four Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Musical.
The team at Wendy Samantha Productions has begun its short run of Catch Me If You Can at the Gasworks Theatre, Albert Park close to Port Melbourne, and what they have presented is a fun, sharp and delightfully large, yet stripped-down show that tells this story with punch!
From the opening airport setting, through to mid-act one number ‘Jet Set’, it’s clear that Wendy Samantha Productions have built a quality production, using minimalistic set pieces on the large stage to make sure the focus doesn’t stray from the more tender moments centre-stage, or the full-on dance numbers presented by the ensemble. As the musical numbers and witty jokes play out throughout act one, it’s evident the casting choices were done well, and with intention. Stefano Burato is a charming, and likeable Frank Abagnale Jr., whose facial expressions and sharp comedic reactions make him a good fit for the role. His antagonist and show enemy, Agent Carl Hanratty is played by Johnny D’Arco, and D’Arco delivers a sinister, yet engaging character the audience empathises with throughout. Laura Wilcox is a standout as Paula Abagnale, working a well-done French accent to the role, with her vocal chops in act two’s number ‘Don’t Be A Stranger’ a highlight of the show. The character of Brenda Strong is played by Meg Wagner, whose pipes of steel shine in ‘Fly, Fly Away’, and Gui Griffin is a hilarious, if not endearing Carol Strong, bringing the laughs to act two. The rest of the cast shines in their work as supporting roles, an energetic and bubbly dance troupe, and witty ensemble one-liner parts. Shout outs to Miki Endo, Gabriella Markov and Kate Papas who steal the stage every time they feature in the energetic dance troupe numbers, and a huge props to Philippa Grey, whose small featured role as the banker Diane drew the biggest laugh of act one.
Costume designers Lorraine Tyedin and Maureen Gray are to be commended for the work they’ve done for this production. A unique touch that differs from most versions of this production, are the red PAN AM uniforms worn by the dance troupe in act one. D’Arco’s FBI suit fits with the era, and looks like an appropriate timepiece. Tyedin and Gray are to be congratulated for their thoughtful ideas.
The sets, while minimalistic, seem intentionally designed that way. The Gasworks Theatre stage is quite a large space, and set designers Darren Monitto and Pat Chang use the canvas well. A projection screen is used cleverly at the back of the stage to set various scenes such as an airport, a restaurant or a hotel lobby. Desks, beds, office chairs and window frames form simple elements that assist in carrying the story where needed. A few opening night teething issues where set changes were clunky or delayed are minor speedbumps in what otherwise is effective set work.
The sound for this show works well in the Gasworks Theatre, and audio designers Alana Kelly and Alan Green are to be applauded for a smooth balance that works crisp sounding vocals. A few technical issues where mics weren’t on, crackling or feedback are again minor, and are sure to be improved for the remainder of the season. When these issues occur, they’re quick to be picked up and fixed by the audio team, not disengaging the audience at all. The band are placed at the back of the stage, and sound great, tight and jazzy under the proficient direction of Matthew White. The music for this show ranges between soaring and light, and White’s band play the tunes perfectly and hold their vamps and dynamics appropriately where needed.
An absolute highlight and centrepiece of Wendy Samantha’s Catch Me If You Can is Ashley Nicole Grottoli’s choreography. Grottoli has taken a large cast of various dance skill, and manages to highlight everyone throughout the show at various parts. A huge applause goes to the talented dance troupe, whose slick, sharp and vibrant moves give this production that extra shine. Spins, high kicks, rolls and solid facial expressions are all on show here, and this group of girls deliver on all fronts. Notably in the numbers ‘Jet Set’ and ‘Doctor’s Orders’, two numbers that bring the casts A game. Wendy Samantha’s direction contrasts well with Grottoli’s energetic numbers, as her stagecraft with her leads shines in the more tender moments of the performance. Her skilful work is highly evident in the scenes between Frank and Brenda in act two, with high skates emotion and strong believability from both Burato and Wagner.
Overall, Wendy Samantha Productions Catch Me If You Can is a fun, big and jazzy production full of cool tones, funny moments and wonderful singing. Those familiar with the story of Frank Abagnale Jr. will find plenty to enjoy here, and those non-familiar are up for a lovely performance with a cast who’s having a good time bringing this story to the Gasworks Theatre stage.