Stephen Anthony, the baby-faced star of Troika Entertainment's production of "Catch Me If You Can," will not be spending his whole career on the non-Equity touring circuit. This charming young performer has one of those light Broadway voices that offer the thrill of surprise with the oomph of its upper registers, and he's also a deft physical comedian. There are shades here of Daniel Radcliffe (although Anthony is a better singer), Andrew Rannells and even a young Matthew Broderick. In short, this kid a year out of school is perfectly cast as Frank Abagnale Jr., the young con man from real life who famously faked his way into doctor's scrubs, Pan Am cockpits and the beds of innumerable beautiful but gullible women.
Anthony has a fine foil in the quieter but abiding Merritt David Janes, playing the sepia-toned but dogged FBI agent Carl Hanratty (a role originated on Broadway by Norbert Leo Butz, currently performing down Randolph Street in "Big Fish"). But as terrific as these two lead performers manage to be in what's a generally decent road company, they can't solve all the problems of the piece. Despite the credentials of its creators — the book is by Terrence McNally, the music is by Marc Shaiman, and lyrics by Shaiman and Scott Wittman — "Catch Me If You Can" was generally regarded as a disappointment on Broadway. (Frankly, if it had opened there this season, it might have done better, if only by comparison.) The score is a zestful, melodic collection of songs ("Live in Living Color" and "Fly, Fly Away" are up there with Shaiman and Wittman's best).
But the show suffers from one major, self-imposed handicap: a decision to frame the Abagnale story as if Frank, upon the moment of his arrest, were starring in his own variety show playing out in his head. Although one can understand why the theatricality seemed like a good idea, the frame didn't work well on Broadway, and the same is true of this tour, which is settled in for the next couple of weeks in the Cadillac Palace Theatre.
Not only does this imposition create stylistic confusion — the 2002 Hollywood movie version was very 1960s slick, whereas the show has a more retro 1950s feel — but it ends up trampling on some of the fun of watching Abagnale's antics. This was, of course, a caper movie; its success came from offering audience members the chance to live vicariously through Abagnale's exploits (presented as though not really hurting anyone). And since Abagnale was, as the feds say in the piece, "a pen-and-ink man," then the details of how he forged checks and ID badges are a crucial part of the fun. Once you make the forger's tools (Elmer's glue and the like) into campy costumes worn by leggy dancing girls, then something is lost.
As non-Equity tours go, this is a big and lively one, directed like the original by Jack O'Brien and anchored well by the two principals (the older character actors are less secure) and an enthusiastic and attractive ensemble replicating Jerry Mitchell's stylized choreography. Much of the physical scenery has been replaced by a huge digital backdrop (sigh), but at least the images are nuanced and theatrical. The onstage orchestra is still present, as are the sexy original costumes by William Ivey Long. And you could not fault the energy or the smoothness of the production on Tuesday night. If you haven't seen "Catch Me," can score a deal on tickets and are a fan of Shaiman and Wittman's from "Hairspray" or (sigh again) "Smash," then you'll find stuff to enjoy here, not least of which is a young actor who won't be needing to con anyone in the future.
When: Through April 14
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St.
Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes
Tickets: $18-$85 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.comCopyright © 2015, RedEye