Beenleigh Theatre Group - Catch Me If You Can

‘Catch Me If You Can’ // Beenleigh Theatre Group

Nearly everyone loves a good “based on actual events” work, and Beenleigh Theatre Group’s ‘Catch Me If You Can’ is a classic example of how real life can exceed fiction.

Based on the real-life scammer Frank Abagnale JR, this show is a rollicking review of catchy tunes, high-energy dancing and a fabulous night out at the theatre. This “truth is often stranger than fiction” story revolves around the life of charming con artist Frank Abagnale JR, (James Bird) who commenced his career at age 16 posing as a French Teacher at his high school and continued to perform a variety of tasks such as Doctor, Lawyer, and Airline Pilot, without any qualifications. To fund his high-flying schemes, he discovers how to create fraudulent cheques, stealing millions from the public. This is what eventually captures the attention of workaholic Detective Carl Hanratty (Michael Mills), who, through the course of the story, discovers how young his target is and takes on an almost fatherly approach towards him and his capture.

Adapted from the movie version in 2011 by the ‘Hairspray’ dream team, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with libretto by Terrence McNally, the musical drama commences at the end of the story with the preceding events leading to this moment delivered to us by way of almost TV variety-show style flashback scenes. As is the way in truth or fiction, this flight path is not without turbulence and the cast of many characters bring with them their own crosswinds, jet streams, storms, and connections with our protagonist to provide an entertaining evening of theatre, especially from the cast of Beenleigh Theatre’s flight and ground crew.

Beenleigh Theatre Group’s experience begins in the foyer where the usual theatre communications are by way of airport-style announcements and pan-am stewards mingle in the foyer. The atmosphere is pleasant, and conversations are animated. As audiences make their way in, flight attendants assist them to their seats, ask where everyone is flying to and cast members roam about having loud, fun conversations with the audience. A small technical issue did delay the start of this flight, however, the cast filled in what could have been an awkward few minutes with some improvisation, quick ad-libs and a fantastic reference to a contemporary airline that had the audience chuckling and cheering. Soon enough, audiences were buckled in and ready to embark on their journey.

‘Catch Me If You Can’ commences with an all-cast number ‘Live in Living Colour’ and this musical no doubt embarks on a rollicking journey of high-flying characters. The number is high energy and contains
the signature Shaiman and Wittman Swing vibes and harmonies.

The minimal set design by Director Nicholas Joy provides a sparse stage to allow Ethan Houley’s atmospheric lighting design and use of visual projections to fill in the blanks. The bare stage was transformed with set pieces moved in and out quickly by the cast to create dark, moody bars, airport lounges, dining and hotel rooms with minimal disruption to the flow of the story. The use of the two follow-spots to add more illumination to various scenes was very effective. The inclusion of ensemble members providing all manner of background activity was well done with only a few little scene-stealing moments distracting from the relevant action.

Sound Design from Levi Rayner was effective and mostly clean with a few crackles that sometimes just can’t be avoided on actors with frequent fast costume changes (and presuming being community theatre
not always someone backstage to check the mics after each frantic change). The balance of tracks to voices was well managed.

The costumes gave a nod to the 60’s era, clearly showcasing the mini-skirted trends to contrast with the
dark presence of the suited FBI detectives, however, some of the outfits missed the mark for this reviewer by appearing to be from a different decade.

Under Nicholas Joy‘s Direction, the production was flashy and sparkling, and yet candid and simple. Joy has very obviously worked extremely closely with his production team and the entire cast. The energy and vitality that exudes from the stage is reflective of his skills and commitment.

Vocal Director Rachel Love has done a stellar job of bringing together an ensemble that doesn’t miss a beat with this clever and tricky score. From the toe-tapping Big Band/Jazz era sounds in ‘Don’t Break the Rules’ and ‘Jet Set’, to the Soulful feel of ‘Doctors Orders’, the ensemble has been well coached. There could have been more attention to the articulation of text in some places, but overall, a great result. The blend of the ensemble brought out all the clever intricate harmonies that make this show so notable.

Choreographed by Jackson Poole and Rachael King, ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was a visual feast of Air Stewards and Nurse chorus girls with stylistic moves and lots (and lots) of legs. The featured dancers, who always gave 110% even on a two-show day provided great vibrancy and fun to the show and it was difficult not to catch the infectious smiles thrown out from the stage.

James Bird as the charming and yet precocious jet-setting Frank Abagnale Jr gave a valiant performance in this challenging and highly demanding role. His character was somewhat endearing rather than devil-may-care, and he delivered a raw and honest performance. The chemistry with Leah Harford as the intelligent yet naïve and vulnerable Brenda Strong is touching and sweet especially in the beautiful duet ‘Seven Wonders’. Harford provided just the right mix of innocence and steadfastness to her soaring solo number ‘Fly Fly Away’, which was sung with heartfelt poignance and she had the audience in her hands from the very first note.

Frank JR’s FBI hound dog Carl Hanratty, was played confidently by Michael Mills who is no stranger to the
BTG stage. Mills gave a genuine portrayal of the determined belligerent agent who becomes more of a frenemy than an adversary. His ‘Don’t Break the Rules; was a crowd favourite and he presented it with the right amount of toughness with a dash of vulnerability.

Supporting their runaway son, Jeremy Headrick as the suave Frank Abagnale Sr and Samantha O’Hare as cynical and coquettish Paula Abagnale provided the strong dysfunctional parental presence that confirms exactly where Frank JR obtained his skills and the reason for his actions. O’Hare in particular was very well-suited to the role of the French mother and delivered a heartfelt ‘Don’t be a Stranger’.  Headrick delivered an admirable Sinatra croon in his ‘Little Boy Be A Man’.  

From the parents-in-law from hell, Justin Harreman and Trinette Avery as Roger and Carol Strong (respectively), delivered good comedic moments in both the roles and in the ensemble track.

Ruby Thompson must be mentioned as a stand-out as Cheryl Ann. Thompson has such a strong stage presence and holds your attention, even when disguised in the ensemble. Thompson does, however, have a fair amount of competition from the very strong featured dance ensemble Jemma Crowhurst, Sarah Hoppe, Phoebe Imberger, Tamara Long, Jade Plaistow and CJ Walker who sashayed, smiled and seductively moved throughout the show and brought vibrancy to the stage at every turn.

Hanratty’s supporting agents Douglas Berry, Sean Wilson and William Thomas are commendable in their distinctive Agent roles (Cod, Branton and Dollar) providing some fabulous comedic relief for the audience. They played off each other very well and added a distinct foil to Hanratty.

Whether you know the story or not, this show is a sincere version and provides the audience with a good two-hour flight away from the ordinary. Overall, it is a great theatre experience. ‘Catch Me If You Can’ was flashy, fast and will fly away next weekend. So you should catch it while you can.

‘Catch Me If You Can’ performs at Beenleigh Theatre Group until Saturday 20 April 2024. For tickets and booking information, visit Beenleigh Theatre Group’s website.

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