Chicago Theatre Review
Portrait of the Con Artist as a Young Man
In a year that saw such impressive Broadway productions as “Sister Act,” new revivals of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Anything Goes,” “The Scottsboro Boys,” and the mega hit, “Book of Mormon,” a charming, splashy musical (based on Steven Spielberg’s 2002 bio-pic of the same name) just couldn’t hold up to the competition. In a less impressive season, this musical might’ve earned more, well-deserved theatrical accolades. That’s not to say, however, that this is an inferior show.
With such stellar talent involved as playwright Terrence McNally (“Ragtime,” “The Full Monty”), composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (“Hairspray”), choreographer Jerry Mitchell (“Kinky Boots,” “Hairspray”) and director Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray,” “The Full Monty”), a lot was expected from this stranger-than-fiction true story of a wily teenage con artist. There is much to like here, including a score that ranges from 1950’s jazz to 1960’s pop rock. There’s a singing/dancing ensemble of long-legged ladies and hunky young men keeping every scene in retro-inspired motion. William Ivey Long’s tight, short-skirted costumes are sexy, colorful fun and, adapted for touring, an ever-changing scenic design by David Rockwell (with vibrant, moving projections by Bob Bonniol) features an onstage band and maintains the show’s nostalgic style.
The unfortunate element in this non-Equity production is how young this production has been cast. True, the likable lead character, Frank Abagnale, Jr., should be a teenager, and this production features a perfect, young star-in-the-making, 22-year-old Stephen Anthony. His ease with the musical’s high-soaring vocals, its demanding choreography and both the comic and dramatic moments are polished and professional in Anthony’s capable hands. And the youthful, versatile singing/dancing ensemble are very good. Aubrey Mae Davis, as Brenda, makes a dynamic love interest for Frank. She all but stops the show with her eleventh hour country/western-styled “Fly, Fly Away.”
But as good as Merritt David Janes’ portrayal of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty is (Tom Hanks in the film version) he’s simply too young for this role. The actor sings, dances and handles his scenes with Frank’s tragic father (an appropriately-aged, well-acted, well-sung Dominic
Fortuna) just fine. However, his moments with young Frank, Jr. or his male coworkers look more like scenes from a good college production since all the actors appear so similar in age. It’s difficult to fully buy into the surrogate father/son relationship that emerges between Frank, Jr. and Carl when they look more like brothers or peers.
While this non-union production does offer an entertaining evening filled with good music, stylish dancing, and eye-popping sets and costumes, the lack of age-appropriate casting often puts a damper on the musical’s believability.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 3-14 by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Steet, Chicago. Tickets are available at the box office, at www.BroadwayinChicago.com , 800-775-2000, or at www.Ticketmaster.com.
For more information about this and other shows go to www.theatreinchicago.com