Theater Review

Catch Me If You Can leads audiences on a slick yet sluggish race

Catch Me If You Can leads audiences on a somewhat sluggish race

"Catch Me If You Can" at Uptown Players in Dallas
Anthony Fortino stars at Frank Abagnale Jr in Catch Me If You Can at Uptown Players. Photo by Mike Morgan

Uptown Players' production of Catch Me If You Can might be live and in living color, but it feels as two-dimensional as a TV screen.

The well-made film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks — itself based on the bizarre true-life story of con man Frank Abagnale Jr. — was made into a flimsy Broadway musical in 2011. To account for all the shimmying and crooning onstage, the idea now is that Frank is reliving his story in his head, reimagining it as a NBC musical special.

It's a dumb conceit that makes the show's '60s-era flamboyance even goofier, and turns Frank from a slick teenager responsible for millions in grand larceny to a winking TV host with hardly a brain in his head.

But it's fun, you might argue. It's not supposed to be serious, it's an energetic romp through Frank's different accents and jobs and long-legged nurses, stewardesses and backup dancers. Sure, ok, there's nothing wrong with fun. But even the toothiest smile and the sparkliest sequins get a little tiresome after two and a half hours of empty storytelling.

This was the same issue I had with Uptown's summer show last year, The Boy From Oz. Another based-on-a-true-story Las Vegas floorshow that told of an impossibly charming scamp (in that case, songwriter Peter Allen) and his constant search for love and acceptance. That one was also directed by Cheryl Denson, who has an eye for the flashy and only sometimes for the feeling. At least we had Janelle Lutz and Sarah Elizabeth Smith as Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli to give it some heart. That, along with dramatic tension, is what's missing here.

There should be tension in this cat-and-mouse game between Frank (played by a plastic-looking Anthony Fortino) and FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Chris Curtis, with some excellently honest moments). When Frank begins passing bad checks, crisscrossing the country and posing as everything from a pilot to a doctor to escape his parents' crumbling marriage, Hanratty picks up the teenager's trail and the two form an unexpected bond of the lonely.

Curtis brings the tension, overcoming the exaggerated "small-town cop" persona Frank casts him as in his mind. Fortino, though he sounds great, is a long way from connecting with anyone onstage, let alone Hanratty. In the past, he's been cast primarily in beefcake roles (the sweaty stoker Barrett in Titanic and shirtless Lt. Cable in South Pacific), but the boyishness of Frank brings out a glimmer of life in Fortino's performance. Let the recent TCU grad enjoy this age range for a while.

Perhaps it's hard to even focus on Fortino with an ensemble as lithe, buoyant and scantily clad as this one gyrating in the background. Ann Nieman's choreography and Coy Covington's wigs and makeup transport this sexy chorus back in time, prepping them to slip into the short and tight costumes from the original national tour. 

Maranda Harrison, as the sweet nurse for whom Frank begins to fall, gets the luxury of a handful of scenes and one killer ballad in the second act. It's telling that composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman didn't even award the 11 o'clock number to their main character, but reassuring to them that audiences can't actually change the channel before then.

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Uptown Players' Catch Me If You Can plays at the Kalita Humphreys Theater through August 9