Fly, Fly Away with Whitman Drama’s Catch Me If You Can
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away … 1960’s style as Whitman Drama presents Catch Me If You Can directed by Christopher Gerken. The lively group of some 150 students, including actors, musicians and crew, bring this fun-loving and surprisingly touching show to the impressive Whitman High School performance space.
The musical Catch Me If You Can is based on the real-life exploits of Frank Abignale, Jr. While seeking fame and fortune, the precocious teenager runs away from home to begin an unforgettable adventure. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination and millions of dollars in forged checks, Frank successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer – living the high life and winning the girl of his dreams. But when Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, Carl pursues Frank across the country to make him pay for his crimes. Based on the hit DreamWorks film with book by Terrence McNally, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, Catch Me If You Can earned four Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Musical.
All of life is a stage for the personality changing Frank Jr. Appropriately, it isn’t long into the production that the audience takes in an immense bandstand occupying the full width of the space setting an appropriate backdrop for the protagonist’s larger-than-life adventures. This prominent placement also provides perfect positioning to showcase the orchestra, some 40 talented student musicians strong. Music Director and Conductor, Terry Alvey, guides this sizeable ensemble while navigating Catch Me’s musical verities ranging from big band to swing and even a cool Bossa Nova It is a joy to have this wonderfully varied score brought to life so effectively by these young musicians.
The simple yet utilitarian stage design, courtesy of Set and Scenic Designer Harry Cash, is enhanced by a series of effective and often whimsical projections appearing above, and sometimes on, the bandstand itself. The care with which Brandon Babbit, Multimedia Director, selected these projections is truly impressive and added nicely to both the essence of scenes as well as to the smooth running of the show. Whitman Drama also employed one of the largest and most able running crews seen on the high school stage seamlessly changing sets, often in darkened space, while scenes ran uninterrupted concurrently. Impressive execution indeed.
Additional production elements maintained high standards with Jared Shapiro’s and Allie Gurland’s sound engineering striking a fine balance, Julia Sienkiewicz lighting very appropriately complimenting scenes and Gennie Anderson’s costumes adorning the young cast quite nicely. Kudos the Technical Director Chris Rogers for ably managing these many moving parts.
Against these well-tuned production elements, the 50-some cast members saw some especially strong performances. Playing the principle role of Frank Jr., Lucas Weals brings the handsome appeal and easy demeanor needed in this challenging role. Given the marathon that is Frank Jr., Weals’ choice of alternate vocal lines and lighter voicing for several of the more demanding passages is understandable. Playing the quirky and oddly loveable Carl Hanratty, Alistar Faghani evokes a charming Yogi Berra-like, burly demeanor juxta-positioning nicely against Frank Jr.’s slim suavity. Faghani effectively navigates the slow lowering of Hanratty’s hard exterior reaching the point of a more father-like care by production’s end.
Not to be outdown by strength from the men, several ladies add especially to the performance. Bringing an untraditionally effusive Brenda Strong, Kaycie Goral’s success culminates in a riveting performance of “Fly, Fly Away.” This piece, very effectively staged with the “Fly Away” trio evoking Supremes-like choreography and silky voices behind Goral’s powerful belt, is a high point of the second act. Further firming up the closing scenes, Erin Craig brings the sassy southern chutzpah essential to her rendition of mother Carol Strong.
Whitman’s production of Catch Me If You Can is anchored by a large, energetic group of featured dancers and ensemble members. Whether acting as sultry nurses, high-flying stewardesses or folks about town, the impressive ladies provide the bulk of the evening’s ensemble support. But almost equally striking is the cohort of at least ten young men who hold their own as the group executes the movement and dance of Choreographer Melani Drummer.
Director Christopher Gerken is to be commended for adding another success to fine high school program he has guided for ten years.
Whitman Drama’s Catch Me If You Can is a high-flying voyage into fun and a sure catch for pure entertainment.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
Catch Me If You Can plays again tonight and tomorrow night, November 21 and 22, 2014 at Walt Whitman High School – 7100 Whittier Boulevard, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, purchase at the door or online.
Jason Landrone is a freelance writer and editor who recently moved to Washington, DC. Jason received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. A lifelong theatre-goer, Jason spends much of his spare time seeing plays and musicals in the DC area.