By Sam Pynes
Catch Me If You Can, Pinewood Performing Arts, Thursday July 13, 2023 8PM
Based on the Spielberg movie of the same title starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, Catch Me If You Can was adapted for broadway over a decade ago starring then rising star Aaron Tveit. If you happened to catch that relatively short run you might be forgiven for thinking you time-traveled when you see this sharp production at Pinewood Bowl.
Bede Fulton, Crutchie from last year’s Newsies, sounds remarkably like Tveit with his clear, pure timbre. Surrounded by Pinewood veterans and supported by an exceptional orchestra, Fulton’s suave confidence and stage presence is the energy that keeps this show moving and he commands the stage from start to finish. This show requires an exceptional lead and Fulton most certainly pulls it off without breaking a sweat.
The story is adapted from the memoir of Frank Abagnale Jr. who from 16-21 worked as a con-man in the mid-to-late 60’s forging checks and impersonating professionals, all the while pursued by the FBI. If he is in some ways an anti-hero in this story, he is surely a sympathetic one.
The tale begins at the end, as Frank is being cornered by his FBI nemesis Carl Hanratty (Grant Schirmer). Hanratty begs him to give up the chase and not to “put on a show,” so in desperation Frank starts to fantasize about doing just that. What follows is his telling of the story leading up to that point staged in “Live Living Color” as an early 60’s style TV variety special. The TV format includes an ad break as Frank introduces the tools he uses to amend his IDs. Eventually this framing breaks down as we catch up to the present and he is dismayed to find that Hanratty (and thus the audience) are still there, waiting to see the real Frank. The Frank he doesn’t want them to see.
The stage is an elegant double staircase, with Orchestra Director Fernando Dominguez at the top of the stairs and the 14 piece orchestra flanking the stairs on either side. Ashley Daily returns as Vocal Director, and the quality of both is evident in the rhythm and harmonies. The ensemble makes many dress changes and the costumes were fantastic throughout. Both the ensemble and orchestra felt larger than they actually were.
Grant Schirmer is called upon to play a very different type from some of his other memorable characters, such as Uncle Fester in Pinewood’s Addams Family or Nostradamus in LCP’s Something Rotten. As Hanratty he plays the dry opposite of Frank Abagnale Sr. (Sam Ninegar), with whom he shares both a song and a similar past, as well as a contrast to his bumbling comedic relief sidekicks, played memorably with three distinct accents by Joe Hanson, Alex Rownd, and Adian Upton. Schirmer proves that he can bring comedic timing to even a guy who is supposedly not funny: I snorted with laughter when he offhandedly admits “I’m so tired” near the end.
Sam Ninegar (Frank Sr.), plays arguably the heaviest dramatic role and nails the key scenes with both Hanratty and Frank Jr., especially the scene in which Frank Jr. begs for him to tell him to stop, and Sr. refuses, preferring to hold on to his pride, pain and illusions and live vicariously through his son’s supposed successes. This was devastating to witness, as Frank Jr.’s greatest hero topples from his pedestal. Will Frank Jr. break free of this cycle?
Karen Freimund Wills turns the small role of Frank’s mother Paula into a memorable one with her grace, charm, and voice. Speaking of people who elevate small roles, Claire Wilkinson blew the audience away with her showstopper “Fly, Fly Away.” Due to the structure of the story we only spend a little of Act 2 with this character so she is very underdeveloped for a romantic lead, but Wilkinson justifies the belting solo with her excellent dramatic musical shaping and clear tone. This song is immediately followed by the other clear audience favorite, “Goodbye”, in which Frank Jr. bids adieu to his allusions and the parts he has taken on and finally faces the music.
Though I shouldn’t like to give too much away, there are several themes throughout and a number of contrasts established which are interesting. One in particular that jumped out at me is the way Frank’s family dances and watches TV, which seems meaningful since the entire show is presented as TV! I nthe case of Frank’s parents, they dance with eachother as the echo of the way that they met, stagnantly stuck in the past as Frank watches TV by himself. Eventually he meets another family that watches TV together which turns into dancing together, alive and in the present as they welcome him into their family and their future. As it turns out, the “Live in Living Color” life that Frank longs for is not the jetset life afterall, but a healthy life of structure, meaningful work, and family.
The other major theme is the importance of fatherhood and example, and by the end Frank becomes a better son as another character steps up to become a better father. They even share a touching duet in which his musical style comes to reflect his new-found father figure’s earlier songs as they merge together, which is a nice detail.
The dancing ensemble continues to impress at Pinewood, somehow becoming sharper each and ever year as they communicate the styles of each show. Even the interludes that cover the scene changes have 100% commitment, as in one scene where a Christmas dance break signals the passage of time. The ensemble flows amongst the set so seamlessly that the audience is effortlessly swept away into Frank’s TV show fantasies.
Come for a marvelous performance by Bede Fulton, but stay and be amazed by everyone and everything else in this show!
If you go: Catch Me If You Can runs July 13-16, 20-23 2023 at Pinewood Bowl in Pioneers Park. Doors open at 5:30PM and performance begins at 8PM. General seating tickets may be purchased at https://www.pinewoodbowl.org/. Adults $16, Children (5-12 years old) $6, 4 years old and under are free. Front section is blankets only, and fills fast if you want to sit close, which I highly recommend! There are food trucks and concessions.
If you have seen the PG-13 movie you know that this story contains adult themes, so parental guidance is advised!
Sam Pynes is an actor, writer, and story enthusiast. Mostly harmless. Current Managing Editor of Appearing Locally.
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