No, Stagecoach Productions’ upcoming rendition of Catch Me If You Can is not just like the movie.
“I’m not Tom Hanks,” said Stuart Harmon, who plays Carl Hanratty.
“And I’m obviously not Leonardo DiCaprio,” chimed in Joseph Paoni, who plays teen con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.
In fact, producer and music director Judy Hayward, director Jennifer Mallard and costume designer Beth Schwartz said they would refrain from seeing the film at all prior to the stage version’s June 20 premiere in Nashua. Schwartz thinks it’s better this way; it will further ensure that what you see that weekend is fresh and new.
It was a little more than two weeks till showtime when members of the cast and crew sat down for an interview just outside their rehearsal space at the Nashua Community Music School.
Costume designers Schwartz and her assistant, Lorraine Louie, were taking measurements for the new stewardess costumes, and press photos had been taken days before.
But the work, they said, is a labor of love; the actors were very pleased to be performing a show that New Hampshire community theater audiences haven’t seen yet — the rights for Catch Me If You Can only became available last fall, and Hayward wasted no time in requesting permission.
The story, if you’re not familiar with the 2002 drama, is based on the life of Frank Abagnale Jr., one of the most famous imposters ever, having claimed no fewer than eight identities (including an airline pilot, teaching assistant, doctor, attorney and lawyer) and escaping from police custody twice before age 21.
It also closely follows FBI bank fraud agent Carl Hanratty in his obsessive cat-and-mouse chase for the teen in the 1960s. There was a ghostwritten autobiography before Stephen Spielberg’s Oscar-nominated film, and the 2011 Broadway musical takes both interpretations into account.
Paoni, a recent college grad who performed with the Nashua Actorsingers in Les Misérables, said there was a common reaction when Hayward (who also was the music director for the Les Mis) began to spread the word about Catch Me If You Can tryouts.
“I’d seen the movie,” Paoni said. “My immediate thought: How the heck did they make that into a musical?”
Putting together Catch Me If You Can is no small feat; it at first frightened Schwartz away from the production, as Frank Abagnale alone has many personalities, and thus, many different outfits. (She obviously eventually obliged, and was happy she did.) There’s just a cast of 20, but many actors double up on parts to compensate for the amount the ensemble needs to do.
The movie itself is three hours long and features a lot of action and a lot of travel. So, the playwrights altered the story’s structure.
This version starts at the end, and what follows is Frank Abagnale’s retelling of his con life, while breaking the “fourth wall” and talking directly to the audience.
Everything you see is through the eyes of Frank, said Mallard, and in her opinion, this reframing creates new color to the story. It might not portray exactly what happened — it might be a bit exaggerated at times, for example — but it’s how the teen remembers the extreme highs and lows.
“It adds to that level of naivety to the character,” Mallord said.
Sometimes the fourth wall is broken mid-song, which, the actors noted, is extremely unusual.
“The way some of the songs are presented is that there’s dialogue in the middle of it. … I think it’s interesting that way, but also definitely a bit of a challenge,” Paoni said.
Also challenging, Paoni noted, was playing Abagnale’s plethora of personalities. He and Harmon share this struggle, even if it’s not obvious at first. The characters of Frank Abagnale and Carl Hanratty are very much alike — they mask their real selves to cover up their personal traumas.
“The man I’m playing is almost putting on his own character. He’s been divorced, and is using his job to compensate for that lack in his life,” Harmon said.
There’s a lot of depth to their relationship, which Mallord thinks is one of the play’s biggest strengths.
“The play looks flashy and fun, but when you look closer, you’ll find more. … There’s a lot to dig into. Yes, there’s a big flashy number in the background, but it’s stemming from something. I think that’s what attracted me to it — there’s a lot more there than what meets the eye,” Mallard said.
“I think the message is that you can find meaningful relationships in the most unusual ways between people,” he said.
As seen in the June 12, 2014 issue of the Hippo.