Broadway's winning new Catch Me if You Can gives you lots of reasons to love the musical, fashioned from Stephen Spielberg's 2002 film. The most delicious moments, for me, come when Catch Me transcends itself with a touch of musical theater magic.
That's the point when all the unlikely make-believe seems unquestionably sound. This show about a runaway teen who cons banks and scams the world - and rakes in about $2 million before he's old enough to legally drink - builds to a cat-and-mouse game with the FBI. Then, on Christmas Eve, the kid finds a pay phone and improbably calls the chief FBI agent on his tail.
He's basically a nice kid who lacks a theft-and-deception filter - especially the way he's boyishly, charmingly portrayed by Aaron Tveit - and he wants to apologize to the lawman for a particularly bald act of deception. What happens when the FBI agent, in the person of the hugely talented Norbert Leo Butz, picks up the phone - well that's the moment.
The two begin to sing to one another. When you consider it outside the cocoon of the Neil Simon Theatre, this is ludicrous. But the clever Catch Me, with a sinewy book and equally muscular score, turns the singing into one of those moments that seems just right.
Both the hunted and the hunter are being strangled - the kid in a web of lies, the agent by a one-upmanship that completely possesses him. Both are alone and, in their own ways, out of control. "Christmas," they sing to one another grimly, "is my favorite time of year."
It makes sense, and so does the show, whose narrative arc is a smooth gift from Terrence McNally - the playwright whose special relationship with Philadelphia Theatre Company has resulted in three world premieres of his work on its stage. Catch Me has music by Marc Shaiman, who wrote the lyrics with Scott Wittman - the team who scored Hairspray. Their catchy songs move Catch Me along nicely, easily reflecting the characters who sing them.
Jack O'Brien's direction moves the story steadily and easily along. It's the fictionalized account of Frank Abagnale Jr., the real former con artist whose autobiography was grist for the movie and the musical. (The stuff his character does on the stage - everything from impersonating an airline pilot, doctor and lawyer to forging government documents - is bad enough and some of Abagnale's actual capers were even gutsier.)
Two of Catch Me's best attributes are its handsome chorus and its voices; anybody who's anybody in the cast gets a turn in the spotlight, a few in show-stoppers. Butz' "Don't Break the Rules" is a little number he makes very big, a look into his FBI-man psyche; Kerry Butler, in a great turn as our scammer's love, has another of the best moments in "Fly, Fly Away," and Tviet, 27, a tenor who made his name as the son in Next to Normal, delivers several pieces with unwavering clarion power.
The cast includes Tom Wopat as the kid's IRS-cheating dad and Rachel de Benedet as his French-born mom, and they all look as if they're having great fun unspooling this tale of illusion and elusiveness. The fun is contagious.
Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or email@example.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/howardshapiro. Follow him on Twitter at #philastage. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org.