Young actors shine in flashy musical

PLAY REVIEW /// ‘Catch Me if You Can’


CON ARTIST—Griffen Hamilton, center, as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Youth Musical Theatre’s “Catch Me if You Can.” Courtesy of Jessica Wallace

CON ARTIST—Griffen Hamilton, center, as Frank Abagnale Jr. in Youth Musical Theatre’s “Catch Me if You Can.” Courtesy of Jessica Wallace

The glitz of 1960s television variety shows is the palette from which “Catch Me If You Can” is painted.

The bright and bubbly 2011 Broadway musical is based on the memoirs of Frank Abagnale Jr., a con artist who used his personal charm, off-the-charts guile and skill at forging documents to masquerade as a doctor, a lawyer and the co-pilot of a major airline, all the while dodging the efforts of determined FBI agent Carl Hanratty to apprehend him.

With a book by Terrence McNally (“Ragtime”) and a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”), the show appeared to be a surefire hit, but despite its bells and whistles, the Broadway version never matched the delightful 2002 motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, lasting a disappointing 170 performances.

Youth Musical Theatre’s recent production, directed and choreographed by Raymond Saar, played May 24 to 27 at Moorpark College, with Griffen Hamilton turning in a winning performance as Abagnale.

The boyish Hamilton was perfectly cast. At 17, he is the same age Abagnale was when he forged a Federal Aviation Administration pilot’s license and flew on hundreds of Pan Am flights to 26 countries. Hamilton’s charismatic style, showcased in such local productions as “Elf: The Musical” and “Big Fish,” has made him an immensely appealing leading man.

Hamilton is a deft actor and was able to convey not only Abagnale’s brash side but his soft-spoken innocence, too. He managed to move from guilty apprehension to finger-snapping, Sinatra-like arrogance without ever compromising the character’s likability.

Brenden Schwartz (doublecast with Benjamin Math) played Hanratty, Abagnale’s nemesis, with relentless resolve. Looking like Dan Aykroyd’s Elwood Blues, Schwartz does a fine job with straight arrow Hanratty’s quirky neo-swing dance number,

“Don’t Break the Rules,” in which he imparts his credo that “the game ain’t worth winnin’ if you’re breakin’ all the rules.”

“Catch Me If You Can” is a great example of style over substance. The most compelling aspect of the film was the relationship between Abagnale and Hanratty, and how their cat-and-mouse game revealed them to be more alike than different, but this doesn’t come across as well in the stage version.

Instead, the chief selling points of the musical are its lavish production numbers featuring an ensemble of leggy chorus girls garbed in everything from stewardess uniforms to go-go dancers’ miniskirts.

Saar’s choreography perfectly evokes the era of the ’60s, when Vegas-style female song-and-dance troupes like the Golddiggers were featured on most TV variety shows. Songs like the dazzling opening number “Live in Living Color” and the razzle-dazzle “Jet Set” made the YMT production fun to watch.

Brenda Strong, the girl-nextdoor nurse who falls for Abagnale, was played by Kamilah Cole (double-cast with Zanna Hocker). This was Cole’s sixth YMT production, and her beautiful voice was highlighted on the touching “Fly, Fly Away,” a song whose power evokes Aretha Franklin’s soul anthems of the 1960s.

Abagnale’s fast-talking father, played by Seth Gunawardena (double-cast with Jake Marone), is the true antagonist of the show, a failure as a father who lives vicariously through his son’s escapades. In “Butter Outta Cream,” he advises Frank Jr. to turn defeat into victory, something he was unable to do.

Other standouts included Derek Rabin and Danielle Lorin as Brenda’s parents and Amanda Front as Frank Jr.’s caring but resentful mother.

Diane Ketchie led the excellent six-piece orchestra. Andrea Hamilton created the attractive costume design.

YMT’s next production is “Spring Awakening,” July 26 to 29 at Moorpark College. For details, call (818) 884-9909 or visit youthmusicaltheatre.com.