Catch Me If You Can – what’s it all about?

Stefano Burato, who plays Frank Abagnale Jr. in Wendy Samantha Productions’ (WS) upcoming season describes the show quite succinctly: “It’s a story about a one man who is a millionaire, a pilot, a doctor, a Harvard graduate, a Berkeley graduate  and a Lutheran. He’s also completely lying about being all those things and is actually running from the FBI”.

It was just the sort of show that director Wendy Samantha was keen to get her teeth stuck into. “I chose Catch Me If You Can because I wanted to put on a show where the storyline was rather intricate, and where characters really displayed growth and development”, says Samantha. “ […] Relationships weave across a complicated series of events, forming the most unexpected outcomes. It also allowed us to showcase a large array of acting skills, as well as amazing singing and dancing”.

The plot of Catch Me If You Can is based upon the adolescent life of the real Frank Abagnale Jr. and his years from the age of fifteen to twenty-one, when he was one of the biggest con artists of all time. The story of his game of cat and mouse with the authorities was the subject of a 2002 blockbuster movie starring Tom Hanks as Detective Carl Hanratty and Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale Jr.  Stepping into the role of Hanratty for WSP is Johnny D’Arco, and he views the film as a lesson in what not to do in part: “Personally, I wasn’t a fan of Hanratty’s portrayal in the film adaptation – in my opinion, he was too slapstick for a veteran FBI Agent”, reflects D’Arco. “I took a look at the script and saw great potential for a hard-boiled detective reminiscent of the golden era of Hollywood. I turned to the likes of Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, and Sean Connery for my inspiration, which I believe leaves Hanratty with a deeper, more attractive and nuanced character than audiences have ever seen before”.

These are well-loved characters, and it can be a challenge to find a new way into the material. “I think when you are presenting something so well-known you need to be true to what the show and the characters are about”, says Samantha. “In this case, it was keeping the element of fun in the cons, the excitement of a chase and honesty when a surprise suddenly arose. […] This musical allows us the chance to see quite a lot of insight into many of the lead character’s thoughts, and we have showcased that through vocal choices, moving shadows, dancing imagery, flashbacks and simple stage positioning that our entire creative team have worked on together.  It means you will get a more rounded view of the storyline and the complexities within the main character’s personalities”.

While the real Abagnale Jr. may have made some bad choices when he was growing up, it is certainly something to which Burato relates, even if not on the same scale. “I watched many interviews of Frank Abagnale Jr. and listened to the way he described himself at that age, and the reasoning behind the decisions he made. Most of the reasoning was ‘due to adolescence’ ”. Reflecting, Burato continues: “I think that in some ways I can relate to him. I try to draw on my own juvenile behaviours or who I think I was when I was a teenager and play on that innocence and naivety that I had”.

In a twist against a usual plot line, the audience may well see Abagnale Jr. as the hero, wanting to see him succeed in his schemes, and perhaps view Hanratty as the ‘bad guy’ as he attempts to foil Abagnale’s plans. For D’Arco, this was all the more reason to play Hanratty. “I was always attracted to and related to portraying antagonists; in my mind, it seems they’ve always got some of the best stories to tell. What really sold me was how Hanratty’s character changes and develops throughout the narrative. I won’t spoil it, but I felt genuinely sad for him, and I felt I had a mission to give his character justice to audiences”.

Stefano Burato as Frank Abagnale Jr. and his bevy of flight attendants.

Across four performances, two different casts will be taking the stage. Naturally, this has meant rehearsing in both casts, and this has been a task which Samantha has relished. “Rehearsing two casts has been wonderfully simple”, she enthuses. “All the doubles get along so well, they assist each other and have developed the characters together to be so much more detailed and stronger in performance.  I think initially swapping them scene by scene, when we first started rehearsals, allowed them to learn off each other so much that it has strengthened how other cast members have learnt characters and roles by being more involved.  I’m so proud that I can ask any member of the cast right now to stand in for another at any given moment and they will know exactly what to do. Now that’s a learning experience for all!”.

With such support within the cast, it is not surprising to learn that the WSP rehearsal room is a wonderfully positive space. “When you walk into our rehearsal room you can feel a buzz, where the cast is excited to be there, and the crew can’t wait to create magic.  There is a mutual feeling of respect between everyone involved, and then you mix that with focus, determination, a lot of strength and hard work, with small intervals of laughter, and of course many smiles and improvised jokes that mainly derive from our male leads, that’s our rehearsal vibe – with the added bonus of chocolate and baked treats, which often appear!”.

Catch Me If You Can runs at the Gasworks Theatre in Albert Park from Thursday July 25th through to Sunday July 28th.  Tickets are available through