TMP’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’ has legs

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TMP’s production of “Catch Me If You Can” featured numerous song and dance numbers by the cast. (right) Brenda (Claire Barton) and Frank Jr. (Jake Atwood) share an intimate moment during the course of the story. Photo by Kat Dollarhide

Tacoma Musical Playhouse continues its 2017-18 season with a production of the 2011 Broadway musical “Catch Me if You Can,” which is based on the 1980 autobiography of Frank Abagnale Jr., a young con man who had committed millions of dollars in fraudulent transactions and passed himself off as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer — all before his 19th birthday.

(Movie lovers might also remember the 2002 movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio).

The TMP production, directed and choreographed by Jon Douglas Rake, is distinguished by a sensational set design by Blake York and lavish costumes by Jocelyne Fowler. York’s multi-tiered, retro-futuristic set design (like something from the “Jetsons”) functions as everything from an airport terminal, to an upper middle class home, to a drab office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Fowler’s costumes, meanwhile, set the time period of the story with a 60’s-era “Mad Men” vibe. The ladies of the ensemble are outfitted in form-fitting, sequined raiment; skimpy, feathered and fish-netted getups and mod skirts. At times, they appear as stewardesses in miniskirts, nurses in form-fitting uniforms and dancing girls wearing nothing but baseball jerseys. The show has as much leg as a performance by the Radio City Rockettes.

Clad in Fowler’s smorgasbord of dazzling costumes, the cast of the musical extravaganza fling themselves hither and yon across the elaborate stage. The individual vignettes, which are knit into the story, can transform into gauzy duets or rise into grand crescendos of song and dance that are fleshed out by the ensemble.

Photo by Kat Dollarhide

The vocal and dance performances are pegged to a storyline that is so compelling that you can’t wait to see what happens next, even if you’ve seen the movie and already know how the story goes. The musical depicts young Frank Jr. as a runaway who is living the high life by passing bad checks and adopting a variety of false identities. His motive for doing so is that he wants to help his father out of financial difficulties so that his parents will re-marry and the family can be restored.
Hard working actor Jake Atwood does an admiral job in the starring role of Frank Abagnale Jr. It is a feat of stamina to act, sing and dance for the duration of the show. Atwood has a glowing stage presence.

A second storyline zeros in on the FBI agents, led by Carl Hanratty (John Miller), who is on the trail of the young con man. During the course of the chase, the two develop a bond. In the role of FBI agent Hanratty, Miller shows himself to be quite engaging. The audience warms to the pathos of the good-natured character, who has sacrificed the comforts of family life out of devotion to his duty to fight crime. Hanratty is joined by a comedic crew of fellow agents played by Josh Anderman, Nicholas Bray and Cameron Waters.

Jonathan Bill, owner of a deep, velvety voice that is somehow perpetually set at low volume, plays Frank Abagnale Sr. Towering and lanky, Bill’s version of Frank Sr. instills dubious life lessons in his son. In “The Pin Stripes Are All That They See,” for example, Frank Sr. tells his son that people can be fooled by their interpretations of the clothing and uniforms worn by others. 

A recurrent story given by Frank Sr. is about two mice that fell into a bucket of cream. One gave up and drowned. The other kept struggling until the cream turned into butter and the mouse was able to walk away. 

When he begins his crime spree, Frank Jr. becomes a  pilot through bluff, forgery and mimicry of the lingo of the insiders. He later uses the same tricks to pass himself off as a doctor and then a lawyer.

Frank’s real father urges him to continue his crime spree. Agent Hanratty, however, urges Frank Jr. to come clean. Hanratty becomes a second father to Frank Jr., who, in the end, is nothing more than a lost little boy who ran away from home.

When Frank Jr. (in his guise as a doctor) meets Brenda Strong (Claire Barton), he wants to come clean and begin a new life with the young nurse. Barton’s solo in the second act, “Fly, Fly Away,” is one of the high points of the show. Standing in the spotlight, Barton becomes the golden personification of music itself as she sings her heart out — professing her love for her betrothed, who has just confessed that he has been living a lie for as long as they’ve been together.

Linda Palacios is sultry as Paula Abagnale, the middle-aged beauty who was a young, French beauty singing in a tavern when she first met Frank Sr. 

Michelle Greenwood Bettinger plays Brenda’s mother, Carol Strong, an over-the-top southern belle. Brenda’s father, Roger Strong, is played by Peter Knickerbocker. 

A sizable cast of ensemble performers are on hand to enliven the show with their vibrant visages. They are Heather Arneson, Deshanna Brown, Cassandra DeChant, Emma DeLoye, James Fesalbon, Nick Fitzgerald, Zach Forbes, Jared Hernandez, Lindsay Hovey, Kathy Kluska and Sarah Lynn Mangan. DeLoye’s strong, velvety voice gives extra heft to the ensemble. Brown is also noteworthy for her sparkling presence, her suave and creamy voice and her flawless dancing. DeChant is also an eye-catching dancer. Kluska, meanwhile, provides some of the show’s comic relief.

“Catch Me If You Can” captures some genuine pathos in its portrayal of the lost little boy who goes on a white-collar crime spree in an effort to reunite his family. In the end, he is forced to see that his father is just a bankrupt alcoholic, perpetually putting a spin on his business failures and his financial shenanigans. In the end, he is as much a con man as his son, though far less successful.

Overall, TMP’s “Catch Me” is a scintillating spectacle surrounding an intriguing story. Moments of comedy and moments of beauty punctuate a story that will keep you in your seat until it is time for the standing ovation at the end.

“Catch Me If You Can” runs through April 29 with showings Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. For scheduling and ticket information call (253) 565-6867 or visit tmp.org.

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