OPENING NIGHTS: Catch It If You Can; TJStage “Catch Me If You Can”

Your intrepid bloggist has been to many opening nights during the course of his life, having played his first non-school role at age twelve and spending the next few decades making the journey from performer to director to producer to teacher to librettist and finally, to reviewer. So, it seems only natural he’d use his literary, sassy gay uncle, diva worshipping, Zeit-biting, homophobe-baiting, ranting and raving Here We Are, Going platform to renew his theatre writing. Why is he (am I?) writing in third person? Enough . . .  

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at TJStage [Click Here for TJStage Twitter]

You just never know how the first time is going to go. Will it be everything you’ve hoped? Will everything slide into place, flow easily, smoothly, and result in paroxysms of pleasure for all involved? Or, will there be pain, awkwardness, discomfort and messy, bloody bad memories?

Happy to report that a stage and crew full of eager, fervently talented, avid, ardent, and (for the most part) enthusiastic teens did a wham, bam, bang-up first time job of the musical Catch Me If You Can [CLICK HERE FOR TICKETS] at TJStage last night.

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at TJStage - photo from their Twitter feed

CATCH ME IF YOU CAN at TJStage – photo from their Twitter feed

If you’ve not read the bio, seen the film, nor heard the story on which it is based, here is information from the musical’s tour website:

Based on the hit DreamWorks film and the incredible true story that inspired it, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is the high-flying, splashy new Broadway musical that tells the story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., a teenager who runs away from home in search of the glamorous life. 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 chases Frank to the end…and finds something he never expected.

This delightfully entertaining musical has been created by a Tony Award®-winning “dream team,” with a book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Ragtime), a swinging score by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman (Hairspray), choreography by Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Legally Blonde) and direction by Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

The “dream team” that opened the show at TJ — marking its regional premiere — consisted of the justly revered team of director Jason Hoffman and Costume Designer and wearer of so many hats (as Hoffman writes in his director’s note) Elizabeth Tringali. Year after year, the two of them manage to gift their student performers with the opportunity to take part in amazing productions of the latest and most challenging work, never allowing themselves or their charges to be content with doing those war-horse shows done over and over again, but, rather, producing the innovative and modern rather than playing it safe.

For this production, there was the additional bonus of choreographer Colleen Hayes, who worked as a student with Hoffman, and was in the post-Broadway tour of Catch Me If You Can, and managed to shape an adolescent chorus line into a cohesive unit of dancing actors, bustling and amusing with character driven movement that transcended the touch-step-grapevine and everybody raise both hands to the heavens for a count of sixteen pablum that all too often serves as choreography for groups not overrun with skilled dancers. Adapting professional level choreography for a group with little training or technique is an incredibly difficult task, and Ms. Hayes did a remarkable job. As did the performers.

Speaking of the performers, and I will – but first let me say, there were far too many to give everyone space. There wasn’t an embarrassing performance in any of the speaking roles, and even in the ensemble — save the occasional mummified, unaware, walking-dead looking member or two — there was a marvelous level of energy and “being there” presence. This is NOT, I promise you, one of those shows where you will be saying, “Oh what have I done to deserve this?”

Now, a few stand-outs. Megan Kelly essayed Paula Abagnale from French accent to torch song to maternal warmth to disloyal lover with insight and just enough edge to make you believe she was a real grown-up who had suffered disappointment in long-term love and life, rather than a teengirl pretending. Lovely job.

And then there was an impressively accomplished trio of young men, amazing for their aptitudes and strengths.

Ian McGregor Anderson as Frank Abagnale Sr, Paula’s husband, was adept at projecting a wearied, mid-life presence and conveying the damaged soul of a dreamer gone to seed. He managed to be the loveable loser, certainly and obviously doomed, but for whom you just can’t stop rooting.

Evan Wormald as FBI agent Carl Hanratty was revelatory, nearly bringing down the house early in Act One with his balls-to-the-wall performance of Don’t Break The Rules — here is the original Broadway cast from the Tony Awards:

TJ’s version of this number and the riveting Mr. Wormald in it, was another marvelous example of choreographer Hayes adapting the intricate and explosive original Broadway staging for this cast — during which Wormald proved to be not just comfortable in the character’s skin, but fully and completely at home. He managed the neat trick of making being schlump and lumpen exciting, and played convincingly the dichotomy of Hanratty’s determination to capture his prey and too, his eventual admiration, concern, and, yes, love for the criminal kid, Frank Abagnale Jr.

Which brings us to Brent Comer as Abagnale Jr — and all the other aliases he wore along the way. Comer has long been one to watch.  He has star-quality, the kind of presence and glow that radiates to the back of an auditorium, an intensity of spirit and grace that leaves the impression one has seen his entire performance in close-up. You will swear that you saw his wink or eyebrow arch or flick of a single finger in IMAX, widescreen hugeness — such is his ability to focus your attention. It’s a gift that can’t be taught, a person is born with that particular mesmeric gift. What can be taught is vocal control, acting technique, and the discipline to control the stage when required and cede it to others when appropriate, and in his final senior performance, the development of those talents is evident in Comer. From his beautifully modulated delivery of his songs to his insanely on-target comic timing — he is particularly good when something on-stage goes wrong, his ad-libs left me praying for more mishaps — to his easy movement and communication of the emotional journey his character is taking, Comer has developed from someone who was genetically/dumb-luck blessed kind of great into someone who has started the work and the training to become not just great, but good — a very different and absolutely essential thing.

Despite it being opening night, despite the fact that this same team JUST FINISHED another full production of the musical  Bonnie and Clyde two weeks ago (which, damn the luck, I could not attend), despite what must have been widespread exhaustion, the show moved along at a fast-clip, with remarkably few glitches – and those glitches were quite some of my favorite moments. This production boasts two of my very favorite set changes EVER – including one where a wall fell on a set person who, somehow, managed to drag it offstage by herself when left to flail with no assistance, and another, wherein a fellow pushed a set-cart onto the stage by thrusting himself, face to the boards, fully prone that the cart might hit its mark. I thought I might die. LOVED IT.

BUT (RANTS AND RAVES WARNING) I do NOT however for the LIFE OF ME understand WHY a magnet arts program like Advanced Theatre Studies is NOT given the budget so that its technical equipment can be modernized. Mr. Hoffman and these talented kids deserve FAR BETTER than second-hand, hit-or-miss microphones, light board, etc. Somebody needs to donate or raise some money for this program. Okay. I’m done.

As far as first times go, this was a good one; it didn’t hurt a bit and it made me laugh and cry and get the chills all over with joy and warm stuff. SO …  get your tickets and go see the show. Do your bit to support the future of the arts. And write your own review and share it with friends. I leave you with this, my favorite song from the Broadway production — it would be my favorite, it’s the eleven’o’clock female ballad:

 

2 thoughts on “OPENING NIGHTS: Catch It If You Can; TJStage “Catch Me If You Can”

  1. Pingback: @CHER … that is all … | herewearegoing

  2. Pingback: I WON! Hits and lottoes and measuring your life in love . . . | herewearegoing

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