Catch Me If You Can, a new musical written by four-time Tony award winner Terrence McNally with music by Hairspray’s Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, flew into theaters earlier this year with a turbulent mix of reviews. The show is based on the 2002 Spielberg film of the same title, which itself was based upon the autobiography of Frank Abagnale Jr., who passed over 2.5 million dollars in fraudulent checks and impersonated an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer all before he was 21 years old. As stated before, reviews for the Broadway stage production have been mixed, but does the score garner the same split reactions?
The show opens with “Live In Living Color,” a slick and swingy number that expertly captures the feel of the 60s, a motif that is oft repeated throughout the rest of the score. This sort of dedication has its advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, a consistent sound does a great job of fully transporting the audience to the proper decade and keeping them there for the entire show, and creates a defining soundscape for the production. On the other hand, the music is actively trying to sound like the 1960s. Because of this, a couple of songs come across as a little cartoony, such as “Jet Set” and “Doctor’s Orders” with their stereotypically sassy female choruses. However, this can be forgiven considering the sheer campy enjoyment that both of these songs bring, despite the fact that the latter of the two is practically the same song with a hospital theme. What cannot be as quickly forgiven is the fact that the majority of songs seem to blend into one giant, albeit catchy, musical number that can get quite tiresome quickly.
Sometimes though, the soundtrack seems to capture the feel of the era perfectly, with songs like “The Man Inside the Clues,” that offer a nice bluesy sort of feel and conjure of images of hard-boiled detective-noir, as Norbert Leo Butz’s persistent FBI agent Carl Hanratty broods upon the hopeful capture of Frank. “Seven Wonders” is a sweet love song, and a welcome change from the rest of score, as it seems to be one of the few songs that seems to do its own thing, and not be so self-aware to stick with the 60s feel. “Someone Else’s Skin” does a lovely job at showing off Aaron Tveit’s soaring tenor voice, but seems oddly upbeat in relation to the plot, as the snappy instrumentals are unsettlingly juxtaposed with Frank’s current and dramatic decision to choose between his parents in a custody battle. This sort of disconnect between dialogue and music is unfortunately prevalent throughout the show, popping up again in “Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year,” where Frank cheekily refers to being “most wanted on St. Carl’s list,” which seems like an oddly light-hearted reaction considering the plot.
It is moments like this that set up semi-antagonist Hanratty as being a sort of non-threat to Frank. Butz’s duet “Little Boy, Be a Man,” with Tom Wopat, playing Frank Abaganale Sr., creates an odd amount of sympathy for Hanratty in an almost buddy like way. This again makes him a lot less intimidating, essentially chipping away at the already-waning tension of the show. This is not to say that every cop and criminal relationship onstage should be identical to the Javert/Valjean model, but the relationship of Carl and Frank seems to aim for that fine balance between enemies and friends, and instead tips the scale way over into one direction. This is disappointingly noticeable in the closing number “Stuck Together (Strange But True).”
As a whole, the soundtrack is like one flashy, brightly colored firework: it’s shiny and entertaining, but far from truly memorable. The lack of genuine tension creates a lack of genuine caring for the characters, and the result, is a fun yet repetitive score, which is in need of some substance.
Click here to purchase the album.