Arena Stage presents musical version of Spielberg movie ‘Catch Me If You Can’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Catch Me If You Can' at Arena Stage (Part 1)

In 2002, it was a Steven Spielberg movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

Now, Arena Stage presents the musical “Catch Me If You Can” from March 4 to April 17.

“It’s a very tantalizing piece,” Artistic Director Molly Smith told WTOP. “It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s dark and deep in places, and it also is the story of this kid who goes out to take and steal and write checks for a boatload of money so he can go out and meet girls.”

Based on his 1980 autobiography, the story follows Frank Abagnale Jr., who claimed to have conned his way into millions of dollars by posing as a Pan American World Airways pilot, a Georgia doctor and a Louisiana parish prosecutor — all before his 19th birthday.

“This is about a young man who is able to con anybody into anything,” Smith said. “He runs away from home at the age of 17. He ends up being an airplane pilot, he ends up being a doctor, he ends up being a doctor during like a three or four-year period of time — and, by the way, he also happens to end up writing checks for at least $2.5 million.”

Nehal Joshi plays F.B.I. agent Carl Hanratty, while Christian Thompson plays the role of Frank Jr., which won Norbert Leo Butz a Tony Award in 2011 when it was adapted by Terrence McNally (libretto), Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (music and lyrics).

“I reached back to the original creative team … and I asked if they would be interested in relooking at the book … and anything in their trunk that they’d be interested in hearing,” Smith said. “Myself and the senior dramaturge, Jocelyn Clark, then were given from Tom Kirdahy, the widower of Terrence McNally, a never-before-produced version of the book.”

Together, they took up the task of reworking the script and songs.

“I wanted to focus it thematically on the idea that this is about relationships between fathers and sons, both real and created,” Smiths said. “We had to take the book and focus it down. … Jocelyn and I went back to four other versions of the script … plus we removed three songs from the Broadway version and added two songs that haven’t been heard.”

What are some of the standout musical numbers?

“There are a great [numbers] like ‘Jet Set,’ ‘Live in Living Color,'” Smith said. “‘Doctor’s Orders’ is another great number, ‘Don’t Break the Rules’ is all about Hanratty, which is totally fun, then the new ones that we’ve put in are ‘Fifty Checks,’ which is a whole song for the father, Frank Sr., who has this desire and dream to take over the world financially.”

Set Designer Alexander Dodge and Costume Designer Alejo Vietti provide a ’60s vibe.

“[It’s] very much about a game show,” Smith said. “Frank Jr. creates his own game show about the gaming he’s going to do in the world. You go back to the ’60s with ‘Truth or Consequences’ or ‘What’s My Line.’ … Visually, they become enhanced in terms of color, look and design. … Our costume designer has come up with absolutely wild costumes.”

These ’60s sets become a dynamic playground for Choreographer Parker Esse.

“Esse is really going to be focused on Jack Cole jazz and the jazz dancer pioneers who followed that,” Smith said. “It’s a love letter to the ’60s with a modern sensibility, and of course, Parker Esse, all of his work is imbued with athleticism … Laura Bergquist’s musical direction is working with the band, so it’s a mixture of big band and jazz, gospel and R&B.”

It’s all about populating the stage with con men and women everywhere you look.

“Every single one of the actors on the stage is a con in one way or another — just like Frank Jr.,” Smith said. “I think we’re in the time of cons and we’re also in the time of cons who get caught, so that’s going to be an underlying theme on it as well.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Catch Me If You Can' at Arena Stage (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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