The story of Frank Abegnale, Jr., was first brought to America’s attention in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 film Catch Me If You Can. It gained a new lease on life in 2011 with the Broadway musical version of the same title, with a libretto by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. Now Evan Hoffmann is directing a phenomenal new production of the musical at Herndon’s NextStop Theatre Company.
The way Hoffmann has managed to stage a big, splashy musical in this intimate space is impressive. The musical is designed in the style of a 1960’s variety show, with young Frank (Matthew Hirsh) serving as our host. Hoffmann, with the help of Lighting Designer Brittany Shemuga, has kept the set simple, with strings of bright paper lanterns, a couple of staircases, and “On Air” signs giving the feel of a TV studio, and furniture moved in and out as necessary. But that’s all that’s needed to help the actors bring the story to vivid life. Julie Cray Leong’s gorgeous ’60s costumes and hairstyles help to create an air of authenticity.
It’s been a while since 2002 (and even since 2011), so to refresh your memory, Frank was a teenage boy who ran away from home and precociously—not to mention illegally—tried out a variety of careers, including pilot, doctor, and lawyer, with surprising success. Eventually tracked down by a tenacious FBI agent, Frank ended up using his powers for good, helping to catch other criminals.
In spectacular style, Frank takes us through the story of his life, in an attempt to stall the agents who have him cornered. But ample time is also given to the two father figures in his life to share their views on that story: Frank’s biological father, Frank, Sr. (Doug S. Sanford), and the dogged FBI agent whom young Frank has reluctantly come to respect, Carl Hanratty (Russell Rinker).The acting and singing by all three is strong.
Befitting the role, Matthew Hirsh has charm and charisma to burn. But he also has a remarkable ability to use his eyes to convey Frank’s underlying desperation, even as his voice, face, and body language are convincingly conveying something different. It’s a beautifully layered, engrossing performance.
Though the complex relationships among the three men make up the bulk of the show, there are strong supporting roles for Carolyn Burke as Frank’s mother, Paula, and Mackenzie Newbury as his girlfriend, Brenda. The two women are also part of a troupe of dancers who join in nearly every musical number, their stamina nearly as breathtaking as their skill. Their performance of Rachel Dolan’s sassy ’60s-flavored choreography brings the whole show to another level.
The bright, jazzy score by Shaiman and Wittman is another treat, and the cast sings them well. While ensemble numbers like “Live in Living Color” and “Don’t Break the Rules” are great fun, the solos and duets for the various leads are particularly well-crafted, giving us special insight into characters’ thoughts and emotions. Musical Director Elisa Rosman conducts nine incredible musicians who play the score so beautifully.
Highlights include “My Favorite Time of Year,” a wistful quartet for Frank Jr., his parents, and Hanratty; “Little Boy, Be a Man,” in which Hanratty and Frank Sr. ruefully reflect on father-son relationships; “Seven Wonders,” a sweet love duet for Frank Jr. and Brenda; and “Fly, Fly Away,” a powerful anthem for Brenda. Newbury belts out that last one with a passion and appeal that bring tears to the eyes. And Hirsh delivers a passionate rendition of “Goodbye.”
Frank Abagnale’s real-life story is so incredible that it takes a buoyant musical like this to fully capture it. And it takes a sharp, polished, energetic production by Next Stop Theatre Company to do that musical full justice. Make sure you see Catch Me If You Can before it flies away.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.
Catch Me if You Can plays through October 9, 2016, at NextStop’s Industrial Strength Theater — 269 Sunset Park Drive, in Herndon, VA. For tickets, call OvationTix at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.