Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Marc Shaiman
Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Director Ken Preuss
Choreographer Karen Shuman
Music Direction by Aaron Kaplan
Big Deal Productions
At Buffalo Grove Park District Community Arts Center
“Catch Me if You Can” is quite simply the classiest and splashiest community theatre production I have enjoyed in ages. Don’t be fooled by the venue. You may be walking into the Buffalo Grove Park District, but Big Deal Productions’ 2016 summer extravaganza matches and occasionally exceeds some Chicago Equity productions with ambition and the kind of scale rarely seen on any stage these days. Producer Lindsay Grandt and Director Ken Preuss have marshaled together an extraordinary company of volunteers who have committed themselves heart and soul to exploring a classic cat and mouse game in which the traditional roles of good guy and bad guy get turned upside down.
Had the real-life Frank Abagnale Jr. not truly lived this story, which is set in the late 1960’s, Hollywood would certainly have invented it themselves. You might remember the chameleon-like con man supreme Abagnale in the popular cinematic form of Leonardo DiCaprio deftly outwitting the rigid arm of the law as represented by the tireless FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Tom Hanks). From the age of 16 to 20, this remarkable fellow cleverly morphed from student to substitute high school teacher to Pan Am air pilot to doctor to lawyer to United States Secret Service agent all by following the sage advice of his schemer father: the clothes make the man.
When the young Abagnale’s family falls apart he takes off on a globe-trotting adventure with the tenacious Hanratty snapping at his heels the whole trip. You could almost call this “Les Miserables” without the barricade. And while playwright Terrence McNally follows the general outline of the 2002 DreamWorks film, the Broadway musical added a swinging jazz musical vocabulary by Tony winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Witman that becomes nearly a character itself. From the rousing opening number “Live in Living Color” to the sweetly ironic “Stuck Together (Strange but True)” it is one toe-tapper to top another. And it is performed on stage by a superb 16-piece orchestra under the capable baton of Music Director/Conductor Aaron Kaplan.
Abagnale’s unique story is rooted in big dreams, broken families, the promise of endless possibilities and personal redemption. Are any of us truly good or bad at heart, or just the manifestation of choices made as we persevere from one day to the next? That is the lesson Frank’s father instills in him in “Butter Outta Cream,” as well as the legacy passed from one generation to another that Frank Senior and Hanratty share in “Little Boy, Be A Man”. There is a haunting, soul-searching discovery in Hanratty’s bluesy “The Man Inside the Clues” to compliment the show-stopping “Don’t Break the Rules”. And Shaiman and Witman reveal genuine heart in the love ballads “Seven Wonders” and “Fly, Fly Away”.
It would take far too much space to give all the credit that is due to a large, talented and attractive cast. Our young hero is brought to life by the handsome and fresh faced Chuck Quinn IV, who sparkles with boyish mischief as both angel and devil rolled into one. Quinn has all the charm, star presence and charisma needed to completely beguile his audience and to make us root for him no matter how illegal or immoral his actions become. Aaron Stash (Carl Hanratty) and Gerald Nevin (Frank Abagnale, Sr) bring maturity and dimension to an unusual father/son triangle that works on every level. And McKenna Batterson, Rosa Nevin and Lee Rivlin shine among the many feminine talents on display.
Choreographer Karen Shuman deserves a standing ovation for taking a huge amateur company of various skills and experiences and giving every performer a purpose and a place. The dancing crackles with verve and attitude that feels completely in character and never superfluous to the central story. Bravo! Every element from the tasteful costuming and the chic multi-purpose set to the misty lighting add professional polish to a genuine theatrical treat.
What a pleasure to be surrounded by an audience of all ages all thoroughly engrossed in and entertained by what they are seeing. The only danger here is that Big Deal Productions has set the bar so exceedingly high that lesser productions may come as a serious disappointment. At the moment though, “Catch Me if You Can” is the real deal, so catch it while you can!
Reviewed July 15, 2016
Playing at Buffalo Grove Park District Community Arts Center, 225 McHenry Road, Buffalo Grove. Tickets are $ 17 in advance or $20 at the door. Tickets for children ages 12 and under are $12 in advance or $15 at the door. To order, call 847.850.2132 or visit bigdealproductions.org. Performances are July 15, 16, 22 and 23 at 7:30 pm and July 17 and 14 at 2:00 pm. Running time is 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission.