‘Catch Me If You Can’ sparkles on Spreckels’ stage
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By Jud Snyder  May 16, 2014 12:00 am

Inventive dramatists can make a play out of practically anything. Even a wet washcloth. If blood-spattered, all the better. But theater audiences in Sonoma County are always looking for the unique in stagecraft.

Hey! revivals of “Oklahoma,” “South Pacific” and “Carousel” are speedily accepted. So are bizarre bookings of “Mary Poppins” and “Frankenstein,” “Guys and Dolls” and “Dracula.” But what’s really new?

Gene Abravaya, artistic director of Spreckels Performing Arts Center, spotted the apparent lack of interest in a musical called “Catch Me If You Can,” and it’s in its first production north of the Golden Gate through May 25. Bringing something new to the Spreckels community of stage fans who love to be dipped into traditional stage shows is a bold move for Abravaya. He’s taking the brunt of the play’s obvious tilt to newness, for he directed the production.

“Catch Me If You Can” can make it as an updated version of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” You have a hero loaded with charisma who knows he has what it takes to succeed, but in “Catch Me,” the hero’s also labeled as a villain with a trio of hilarious, bumbling FBI agents who love to pull out their revolvers and menacingly wave them about. The only sensible guy is their leader, Carl Hanratty, played by David Yen, a relentless pursuer of our hero/villain, Frank Abagnale, Jr., played by Zack Howard. Yen and Howard are the pivotal players you must continually watch.

Goodness knows there’s enough comic, dancing and singing going on throughout this musical comedy, drama and love affair to keep the Spreckels stage rattling on its underpinnings. 

Garet Waterhouse and Betsy Glincher have the roles of Frank’s parents, proud of their son as he pursues his careers of bouncing bad checks coast to coast, admitting he’s just “a common crook” and deserves much better out of life.  He achieves this through artful talk, knowledge of what he’s stepping into, his naïve charisma and perhaps sheer luck. 

Frank assumes a lengthy list of aliases as he takes on such varied roles as Pan Am aircraft co-pilot, an MD supervising surgeon in a hospital clinic and tours as head authority in other professional businesses. If you saw the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, you know the list.

The aliases confound Hanratty and his FBI allies. They’re garbed in appropriate stingy-brim fedoras and narrow ties. Their main beef is the money he stole from banks, millions of dollars in bounced checks. Frank’s later games with role-playing aren’t really crimes in their eyes. 

Surrounding all this “crime” assumption is The Ensemble, a singing, dancing troupe of airline hostesses, nurses and other professionals, mostly of scantily-clad women, who bolster the proceedings with acrobatic stunts and on-point vocals. Truly, they’re a major part of the show.

How does Frank get out from under his self-created lifestyle? We won’t spoil the ending but will sneakily indicate romance enters the picture. He meets Brenda Strong, played by Kelly Brandeburg, and his house of cards tumbles around him. The final sight is Hanratty and Frank handcuffed together as they croon out the fate that now links them together forever.

“Catch Me If You Can” has choreography by Michella Snider, the delicious costumes were designed by Pamela Enz, lighting and sound design by Eddy Hansen, Elizabeth Bazzano and Daniel Mitchell. The many rehearsals directed by Abravaya really paid off, for this is a seamless production.

It plays weekends through May 25.

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