What makes this musical’s blandness so surprising is its pedigree. It comes from the musical geniuses behind "Southpark: Bigger, Longer, Uncut" (one of the best musicals of the 90s) and Hairspray (one of the best musicals of this decade), Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. The book is by Terrence McNally and uses a 1960’s variety show motif to tell the story and hang the numbers on. McNally’s book crafts a symbiotic relationship between Abagnale and Agent Hanratty, creating an almost father-son like parallel between the two characters. It is ably and fleetly directed by none other than the director of the aforementioned Hairspray, Jack O'Brien. The choreography by Jerry Mitchell is impressive; but man he makes this cast work.
This show relies heavily on exposition due to the large amount of information it has to convey to tell its story. Aaron Tveit (last seen as the son in Next to Normal) is Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con man and forgery expert who impersonates a Pan Am pilot, a doctor and a lawyer while still barely out of his teens. Tveit is a talented and charming leading man. He does, however, feel a little wet behind the ears; his performance is charming, but not commanding.
Norbert Leo Butz is Agent Carl Hanratty, the agent obsessed with catching Frank Jr. Butz has the best number in the show. Perhaps I shouldn’t say he has the best number so much as he makes the most out of the number, “Don’t Break the Rules.” Like he did with “Great Big Stuff” in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Butz owns the number. Mr. Mitchell has Butz doing these marvelous round-house kicks and you sit there asking how he can possibly belt out that number and do these at the same time.
In the role of Frank Abagnale, Sr. is Broadway regular, Tom Wopat. Mr. Wopat gives an outstanding and nuanced performance as the father who seems to be the model for his son’s bad behaviour. We watch as Frank Sr. drinks himself into the grave.
Kerry Butler is Abagnale’s love interest Brenda Strong. Except for one power-house song towards the end of the show, this role doesn’t showcase her talent. In the song “Fly, Fly Away” Butler gets to show off her always unexpected vocal power.
The sleek set, designed by David Rockwell, recreates a 60’s looking airport terminal and television show set replete with onstage band. The costumes by William Ivey Long are everything we have come to expect from Mr. Long, gorgeous and colorful.
This show has a good deal going for it. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t engage like it needs to.
View full production credits at IBDB.com.