Intermission at the Neil Simon Theater Lucky turns to me and reading the dry, dead-behind the eyes look on my face says, “I feel like you’re not enjoying this.”
Ding ding ding, we have a winner.
Things didn’t get any better after intermission, either. In fact, the musical’s finest moment—a number called “Don’t Break the Rules” in which the inimitable Norbert Leo Butz steals the show—had come and gone about halfway through the first act. It would not be topped.
It’s a shame, too—given the amazingly talented cast and creative team behind the show—that what happens on that stage is just so dreadfully safe, so amazingly average. But Catch Me If You Can is truly boring, through and through.
The problems started pretty much right away, with the cheap conceit used to turn a pretty badass story into a MUSICAL (!): Frank Abagnale Jr., just about the be arrested, wants to tell everyone in this here theater the true story of his life as if it were a 60s variety show. You know, big band and slightly-past-their-prime dancers in terrible wigs and all. Honestly. What about this story said BIG BAND (!), FLASHY DANCERS (!), VARIETY HOUR(!)? And why did we need a trick to make this a musical anyway? Why couldn’t we let the story do the work? Ugh. No. Double ugh.
Unfortunately the problems didn’t end there. I mean. We’re talking about a big, glitzy, two and a half hour long musical and I’m sitting in the audience stewing with irritation about the crappy wigs on the dancers? Do you think the wigs would have bothered me if everything else had fallen in line?
The showgirls—per the variety hour conceit—are in almost every single scene, and their overabundance reads as completely superfluous most of the time. Plus, their costumes are as chintzy looking as their wigs. In fact, while we’re on the topic of chintzy, the set—which is mostly just a band riser that moves around—is also pretty lackluster.
It might be easier to overlook issues like that if the musical itself were more captivating. But the songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman are pretty unremarkable too. They sounded nice enough when they were happening, but by morning I couldn’t even recall a single one. And Shaiman’s score is… I don’t even know what it is. Because it doesn’t sound like 1960, but it doesn’t sound like 2011, either. It is without time or place or cultural reference, really. It is pastiche in a bad way.
And now I’m just getting mean. The truth is, everyone up on the stage is working really hard. They’re doing what’s been asked of them, and they’re doing it very well. Each and every brushstroke falls into place. But the overall picture is pretty dull. And out-dated. And strangely heartless. I couldn’t muster thirty seconds of emotion for the characters on that stage, and worse, they couldn’t muster it for me, either.
Despite the fact that they steal the two moments of the show where anything comes close to being interesting, Kerry Butler and Norbert Leo Butz are totally wasted in this show. Aaron Tveit is undeniably talented, but he is working so hard he scarcely finds a moment to let the cracks show, to be a compelling human being and not just a really slick caricature. There are some other actors in this show too, I think, but like the songs, none of them made an impression. Nothing seemed to stick.
I suppose if your biggest goal is to pass a night at the theater in which you do not groan and facepalm yourself to death—a la Memphis—or feel vaguely horrified and 90% unsure of what is happening on stage—a la Spider-Man—then Catch Me If You Can isn’t a bad choice. But honestly, I’d encourage you to reach a little higher. Elsewhere in New York you might find a show to love, filled with characters that reach out and grab hold of your heart. That’s not happening at the Neil Simon Theater any time soon.
Photo: Joan Marcus