Review: Catch Me If You Can, Hayes Theatre (NSW)

With electric choreography and polished performances all around, this musical is one to catch.
Review: Catch Me If You Can, Hayes Theatre (NSW)

The cast. Photo: Robert Catto.

The latest wonderful show at the Hayes is the bright, bold and colourful Catch Me If You Can, adroitly directed by Cameron Mitchell. Audience members might be familiar with the book, or the film starring Tom Hanks and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The play tells the astonishing true story of Frank Abagnale Jr (Jake Speer), a young con man who pulled outlandish stunts in the 60s and 70s and succeeded for years at dodging the authorities. The story is presented like a TV show of the era, with Frank, our narrator, telling his life story through flashbacks. His life is a series of breathtaking scams, lies and deceits showing that if you are brazen and confident enough, you can get away with almost anything. Abagnale was able to pass himself off as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, assuming at least eight identities, and we see the way that privileged white American society is subverted.

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The production is extremely polished with a multi-talented cast. Set design by Kelsey Lee was modular, fluid and deceptively simple with a panel of mirrors and various sliding box like plinths that allowed for many changes of locale. Costumes by Christine Mutton were sensational, including sultry nurses, immaculately groomed air hostesses and other very stylish outfits for the women (oh the red dress for Paula Abagnale!) while the men mostly wore precisely tailored suits.

The small band hidden behind a screen at the back was enthusiastically led by musical director Anthony Cutrupi. They delivered a huge, rich and warm swing sound reminiscent of Sinatra, Crosby, and Martin. The snazzy, electric choreography was typical of the era, very showbizzy and glamourous with go-go dancing, foxtrot and Rockette-style high kicks and some huge ensemble production numbers.

As Frank Jr, Jake Speer is a suave, charming, cheeky rogue, with a bright open tone. He gave an accomplished, nuanced performance in which we see Frank’s loneliness, inner fragility and his creativity. Frank is so busy with his multiple identities that one wonders if he knows who he really is. Speer handles all this with panache, shifting from leading man wickedly hogging the limelight (Pinstripes Are All That They See) to soft, romantic ballads (Seven Wonders). We also see his awkward relationship with his parents in songs like Butter Outta Cream.

Tim Draxl is terrific as Frank’s nemesis, FBI agent Carl Hanratty, a cross between a driven, hard-boiled private eye and a bumbling, lonely workaholic. His Don’t Break The Rules with his team of FBI agents is a show stopper. Draxl is a great dancer with a fine voice and he and Speer are elegantly matched in their game of cat and mouse.

Simon Burke is tremendous as the grandiose and somewhat irresponsible Frank Sr – his descent into drunken loss and despair is sad and moving. Frank Jr’s très chic French mother, Paula, is given a delicious performance by Penny Martin. After a very romantic meeting and marriage in France to Frank Snr, Paula eventually becomes disenchanted and unfaithful, weary of a rogue-ish, money-chasing dreamer.

Both Burke and Martin are also wittily brilliant as Carol and Roger Strong, the all-American New Orleans parents of the only girl Frank Jr really loves, Brenda (Jessica Di Costa). Their Welcome To the Family Tree is a huge joyous and boisterous production number in Act Two, and Di Costa’s Fly Away is a huge showstopper delivered with great power and feeling.

The supporting ensemble, too, is strong and able in this glitzy performance which sizzles, dazzles and delights. Try and catch the flight.

4.5 stars out of 5 ★★★★☆

Catch Me If You Can
Book by Terrance McNally, Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Based on the Dreamworks Motion Picture
Presented by LPD in association with Hayes Theatre Co
Director and Choreographer: Cameron Mitchell
Assistant Director: Lisa Callingham
Cast includes Jake Speer, Simon Burke, Tim Draxl, Penny Martin, Jessica Di Costa, Monique Salle, Heather McInerney, Stacey Thompson, Erica Stubbs, Jordan Angelides, Jarrod Draper, Riley Sutton and Joel Houwen.
from 19 July 2019
Hayes Theatre, Potts Point NSW
Tickets $69-74

Lynne Lancaster

Monday 29 July, 2019

About the author

Lynne Lancaster is a Sydney based arts writer who has previously worked for Ticketek, Tickemaster and the Sydney Theatre Company. She has an MA in Theatre from UNSW, and when living in the UK completed the dance criticism course at Sadlers Wells, linked in with Chichester University.