The story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr was first brought to the public in his 1980 autobiography, but it wasn’t until the story was made into the movie Catch Me If You Can in 2002 that it captured broader public attention. The movie plot was created into a musical version with the same title, opening in Seattle in 2009 before moving to Broadway in 2011, earning several Tony award nominations including Best Musical.
A delayed opening night start, due to technical difficulties in the theatre, didn’t seem to rattle the OCPAC cast who burst onto the stage with enthusiastic energy in the opening number, setting the standard for the rest of the show. Since emerging onto the community theatre scene, OCPAC has consistently delivered this high level of energy from its full ensemble cast, no doubt aided by the professional experience from the co-founders of the company.
Fresh from the cast of The Production Company’s Funny Girl and the Australasian tour of Cats, as well as having just recently been announced as a semi-finalist in the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award, Sam Hooper has taken on the roles of both director and choreographer for Catch Me If You Can. The impressive choreography is slick, tight and well managed by the entire cast, rather than a few principal dancers. Under the direction of Dave Barclay, the 13 piece orchestra deliver a rich sound.
Costumes by Marc McIntyre are well done, giving an authentic, glamorous look for the era, rather than being overly sexualised. Lighting by Declan O’Neill works well for the most part, but there were some moments when cast had shadows across faces making it difficult to work out who was speaking. Sound (design by Marcello Lo Ricco) was probably limited more by the acoustics of the venue, but at times some spoken lines were difficult to hear over the music being played, particularly the closing lines of the show which reveal the outcomes of the real people in this story.
The set is simple, with props being moved on and off-stage as required. The directorial choice to move pieces on and off in part of a darkened stage while the action took place elsewhere on stage ensured the show moved at a good pace with very limited pauses due to set changes.
The story itself of Frank Abagnale Jr is almost too ridiculous to believe and the musical takes this to another level by having Abagnale tell his story in a show as he is being arrested. It effectively keeps the musical light and bubbly, but director Sam Hooper has managed to find the heart in the story, which endears the audience to the plight of this young man and provides some insight into the motivations behind his choices.
Aiding this story-telling is a superb performance by James Watkinson in the role of Frank Abagnale Jr. Watkinson’s portrayal is confident and bold, but with a certain youthful charm that convinces the audience his character’s intentions are not motivated by greed, but rather to fix his dysfunctional family. Watkinson’s powerhouse vocals had the opening night audience erupting into mid-song cheers and delivered a 5 star, flawless performance. Like others in the OCPAC company, Watkinson could easily be at home on the professional stage.
Alexander Hatzikostas gives a strong and believable performance as Special Agent Carl Hanratty, who has made it his mission to capture the young con artist. Hanratty starts out to track down a criminal, but the realisation this criminal is “just a kid” is delivered with enough warmth that makes the final (true life) outcome seem easy to accept.
Andrew Dempster and Gracie O’Neill give solid and convincing performances as the Mr and Mrs Abagnale Sr. No one in particular really feels like the “villain” in this story, but rather each has their own set of circumstances that can readily justify their actions.
Belle Power is delightful as Abagnale’s love interest, Brenda Strong – smart and capable, but also innocent and lacking worldly experience.
While Mel Xavier and Joel Armour provide plenty of laughs in their portrayals as Mr and Mr Strong, they do look too young for the roles. However, in a smart directorial decision, they walk on to the stage in character during a scene change, which immediately sets them as being “older”. The full lights come up to reveal performers clearly younger than the characters they are portraying, but if you can suspend your disbelief, they do a good job.
OCPAC have delivered another excellent production in Catch Me If You Can, fulfulling their commitment of “Raising talent, raising the bar.” Worth a look.
Catch Me If You Can is playing until Saturday 17th September.
Photography by Ben Fon.