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Huntington musical based on real-life romantic criminal

If you remember the movie “Catch Me If You Can,” you’ll probably also remember that it was based on the life of an amazing criminal, Frank Abagnale, who flew on hundreds of Pan Am Airlines flights simply by impersonating a pilot. He did this at the remarkably young age of 18. He went on to other, even more preposterous capers. One time he even posed as a doctor. His story caught the attention of America, and Abagnale became a sort of romantic folk hero, much like Bonnie and Clyde, and more recently, the skyjacker D.B. Cooper.

Douglas Warnke and Tony Heffner are father and son in the Huntington Playhouse production of "Catch Me If You Can" Photo by Tom Meyrose.

Abagnale’s story has been written as a musical, and that is what is currently on the Huntington Playhouse stage. Doug Warnke is Frank Sr., a hustling thief, and his son, Frank Jr., quickly learns the craft from his father. His mother, the always enjoyable Keli Schimelpfenig, decides she wants a divorce. The authors present that as the event that pushes young Frank over the edge into a life of deception. Along with posing as an airline pilot, Abagnale made money by passing bad checks and generally defrauding just about anyone he met. But his ways were so bold and outlandish that the subject matter works well as a musical … even an obscure one.

That Tony Heffner looks young is a plus in the Huntington production. His tenor voice belts out a score that is not memorable, but tuneful. The conflict in “Catch Me If You Can” is not between Abagnale and his victims, but between him and FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, who pursues him closely, often just missing him. It really makes for good theater. Tim Hirzel is the harried agent who develops an intricate and odd relationship with the criminal. This is exploited nicely in the show’s second act, when Abagnale is finally captured. This is not a spoiler; it’s historic.

“Catch Me If You Can” is enjoyable, and its best moments include some surprising turns of phrase, as well as frequent changes in mood, from lighthearted to serious. When Frank develops a true romance with Brenda, it leads to his downfall: an unfortunate message that it is a woman who brings him down. Anna Parchem is very good, and the “Seven Wonders” duet by Brenda and Frank is a highlight. It is quickly followed by a rollicking “Our Family Tree” when Frank gets to meet his fiancee’s parents. I liked David Glowe’s costumes, and Kelly Marie Tomko’s choreography.

“Catch Me If You Can” runs on Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 3. You can reserve tickets by calling Huntington Playhouse at 440-871-8333.

 

 

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