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High Spirits, Higher Legs Launch ‘Catch Me If You Can’: Review

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"Catch Me If You Can"
Norbert Leo Butz in "Catch Me If You Can" in New York. The new musical is at the Neil Simon Theatre. Photographer: Joan Marcus/Hartman Group PR via Bloomberg

April 11 (Bloomberg) -- Nobody, but nobody makes the female citizens of Broadway look hotter, dance better and come hither with greater pizzazz than costume designer William Ivey Long.

There’s plenty to admire and even a little to love about the stolid new musical “Catch Me If You Can.” But for eye-candy alone Long deserves a special Tony Award. Share it with director Jack O’Brien and choreographer Jerry Mitchell, the supremely confident team behind “Hairspray.”

With a story set in the “Mad Men” 60s (c’mon, enough already), Long dresses his bouquet of long-stemmed chorines in shirts-only Yankees pinstripes, robin egg blue stewardess uniforms, skinny white Capri pants and halter tops, and shirt-waist black dinner jackets for a show that unabashedly reaches out to the elusive Tired Businessman, that long-forgotten prey of Broadway producers with names like Ziegfeld. On that count alone, “Catch Me If You Can” delivers the goodies.

Based on the Steven Spielberg movie that was based on the memoir of con man-turned-FBI agent “Catch Me If You Can” is the story of a bad con artist (Tom Wopat, in hangdog mode) whose son grows up to be a very good one. To keep his one-man global check-kiting franchise afloat, Frank Abagnale Jr. -- played with hip-swaying, barely post-adolescent charm by Aaron Tveit -- successfully passes himself off as a Pan Am pilot, an M.D. and a lawyer while bedding every skirt passing by.

Cat-and-Mouse

The Javert to this modern-day Valjean is lonely, obsessed FBI agent Carl Hanratty, played with paunchy, shlumpy verve by Norbert Leo Butz (who probably hasn’t had this much fun since he played the con artist in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”).

The show itself? An odd duck. The songs are by the “Hairspray” duo of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who are very adept at writing and arranging pop songs that fly by effortlessly without leaving much of an impression. They’re played by a sensational onstage swing band.

When the songs get serious, the score veers into the maudlin. The chief offenders are the inevitable duet for Hanratty and Frank Sr., “Little Boy, Be a Man” and a torchy ballad for girlfriend Brenda Strong (Kerry Butler) that’s best forgotten. Don’t fret; the moments pass quickly. Terrence McNally’s book follows a straight-and-narrow narrative route, leaving not much to the imagination.

David Rockwell’s endearingly suggestive Swinging 60s sets, lit with jewel-like resplendence by Kenneth Posner, give us lots to ogle besides the girls and boys kicking, tapping and swirling about the stage. But really? They’re the main event.

At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St. Information: +1-877-250-2929; http://www.ticketmaster.com Rating: **1/2


What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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