Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why CATCH ME Caught Me

Timing, they say, is everything.  And I can't help but wonder how different the fate of my favorite musical of last season, Catch Me If You Can, would be.  Had the show opened during the 2009 - 2010 season, I suspect that the Shaiman-Wittman-McNally musical would not have posted a closing notice after just 170 performances as it did today.  Even with the mixed reviews it got, I bet it would have swept the Tonys, and Memphis might not still be around.  At the very least, it would have offered considerable competition to a season that included Memphis, The Addams Family, Come Fly Away and Million Dollar Quartet.  Mind you, I genuinely enjoyed three of the four (it makes me sick to think MDQ has run longer that CMIYC).
Ah, well.  There is no point in getting bitter. It is what it is.  One imagines that despite an attendance rate that continues to hover around the 80% mark, an average ticket price under $70 must make turning a profit difficult.  After all, the show boasts a large cast and a large orchestra.  It can't be cheap.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to reconcile in my mind and heart, though, is that the things a lot of people didn't like about the show are the very things that drew me to it.  Here are 5 reasons why Catch Me caught me:
  • I did not go into it expecting the twisted, hilarious world of the composers-director-choreographer's previous outing, Hairspray.  I knew going in that it would probably as different from its predecessor as Sondheim/Lapine's Passion is from Sondheim/Lapine's Into the Woods.  The stories couldn't be more different, and their sources are polar opposites - John Waters' skewed but loving view of his childhood Baltimore couldn't possibly be like the psychologically off kilter world of a real-life teenager turned con artist all for the love of his parents.  To expect a silly romp out of Catch Me If You Can is, well, silly. 

  • I like an anti-hero.  The cold detachment and almost machine-like determination that is a heavy cloak over the troubled emotions of Frank Abagnale, Jr. is interesting to me.  It isn't just matinee idol Aaron Tveit, either.  You see, I can root for a guy who has drive, inner-fears, and a deep rooted need to please his parents.  And who can't feel for a kid who will literally do anything to get his folks back together?  For me, an instant bond and irrepressible warm fuzzies doesn't mean I'll love the show he is in.  It's the same reason why I am always drawn to the Javerts and not the Valjeans.

  • I like an adversary that I can warm up to, too.  Again, chalk it up to the Javert/Valjean thing, only in Catch Me you get BOTH!  Who can't find the fun in the rumpled workaholic with a heart of gold hidden beneath a heavy cloak of self-righteousness, political correctness and drive?  It helps that Hanratty is played with a sweet earnestness by Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz.

  • I love slick staging and pristine precision dance numbers that are sexy and daring, not fodder for the Lawrence Welk Show.  Jack O'Brien's amazing use of trap doors and sliding panels created a fast-paced world for Catch Me.  It moved as seamlessly and surprisingly as the actual cat and mouse game we were watching.  Oh, sure people bemoan the lack of tension,  There was plenty of tension in the audience both times I saw it, especially in the closing scene and even more so in the scene in the hotel where Hanratty and Abagnale come face to face for the first time, until the audience gave an audible sigh of relief and laugh when Aaron leaves Norbert there with a big bottle of ink and "sucker" written all over his face.  But I digress.  Equally eye-popping were the era evocative, high energy and high precision dance numbers created by Jerry Mitchell.  "Live in Living Color" was a great opening number, while "The Jet Set" set in stone iconic images from the film and book versions.  And of course, Hanratty's old fashioned Broadway showstopper, "Don't Break the Rules," is one of the season's biggest highlights.

  • And most of all, I love a high-concept, challenging show that is a slick as the characters in the show.  You see, I liked the concept of a 60's variety show to tell this story.  It is period perfect, and it makes the reasons for breaking into song and dance legitimate.  Perhaps best of all, it allows a certain sterile distancing between the real-life story and theatricalizing of the more commercially interesting highlights of a life on the run.  It makes one enjoy the razzle dazzle of the sharp dance numbers as we see young Abagnale become a pilot, a doctor, and almost a family man without becoming too enamored of it.  After all, he is a criminal.  That allows the more thoughtful and feeling moments - the ones not choreographed and staged with urgency, to draw us in with the emotional content.  Of course, that is the very thing that most people wanted and didn't get easily.  They wanted the razzle dazzle to be so much fun you could love the criminal Frank Jr. who is inherently more interesting than lost at sea teenager Frank Jr.  People wanted to love the bad guy like they love Roxie and Velma.  Ironic isn't it that this is exactly the point of both shows?  America loves a bad guy who gets away with stuff we can't in everyday life.  It is harder to find the entertainment value in a kid who is simply starved for approval and is too smart to be left to his own devices.


I love a challenge.  And I love when it is presented by people who know what they are doing.  And that is why I love Catch Me If You Can.


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