A curious parallel runs through the production of Catch Me If You Can that opens its four-day run at the Lexington Opera House on Thursday. It marks not only the first touring version of the Tony Award-nominated musical but the national tour debut of its lead actor, Stephen Anthony.
"You know, it's a huge learning experience," said the recent Florida State University graduate and current New Yorker. "I'm surrounded by these actors, some of whom are on their fifth tour. And they're just brilliant. They know how it works and they know all the little tricks of traveling well. So touring for me has been a huge adventure. And that's kind of what the show is about: this big traveling adventure. I feel like I'm living my own dream every night — minus the crime."
Ah, yes, the crime. Anthony plays the central character of Frank Abagnale Jr., the playboy con man who passed himself off as a pilot, doctor, professor and lawyer before the age of 21. In the process he forged and cashed checks worldwide to the tune of $2.5 million, prompting a yearslong pursuit by the FBI.
The theatrical version of Catch Me If You Can, which earned four Tony nominations in 2011, was inspired by Stephen Spielberg's popular 2002 film of the same name (with Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale), which in turn was based on Abagnale's autobiography, a New York Times best seller.
"I will tell you flat out, I have been in love with this story forever," Anthony said. "I think the idea of a con man has become part of American folklore. For example, Frank Abagnale himself has almost become an American legend in that he was really the first of his kind. I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and was just riveted to the screen.
"Leonardo DiCaprio's work in the movie is incredible. But besides that, the story itself is everyone's kind of fantasy. You get to run off on your own as a kid and be whoever you want to be and go wherever you want."
Abagnale eventually was imprisoned. But that also held a sense of fascination for Anthony, who said the musical version of Catch Me If You Can also focuses on the broken family life that led to Abagnale running away from home at age 16 and setting out on a life of young male fantasy. But he said the imprisonment also suggests a sense of redemption and, though somewhat delayed, responsibility.
"That's really what I think is so beautiful about the story, especially in the way that this stage version tells it — that, eventually, this life becomes not so glamorous anymore. This kid has to decide to grow up and make hard choices for redemption.
"Frank spends the whole story trying to put his family back together. Ultimately, I think that's one of the huge perks of the show as opposed to the movie. You get the family's story a lot more in the show. Frank is just trying to take care of them. But ultimately, it comes full circle. He realizes by the end, 'Who's taking care of me? Who's telling me to make the right choices and do the right thing?' So at the end, he's the one who has to decide for himself. He has to grow up and see his life for what it really is. He's got to let the glamour go, let the girls go, let the money go and pay for what he's done so that he can start over."
But as a musical? Granted, many contemporary musical theater works are based on decidedly unmusical stories. Still, when watching the Spielberg film of Catch Me If You Can, images of Abagnale and FBI agent Carl Hanratty as song-and-dance men don't exactly spring to mind.
"For me, musical theater is my medium of choice," Anthony said. "It's the way I love to tell stories. So for me, this show hits home. It packs an even greater emotional punch. The music itself is so loaded with adventure, glamour and romance. It's all '60s big band, so it puts you right in that time period when pilots were really the rock stars of the generation.
"I think that the musical makes the story so much more immediate. The audience sort of gets to feel like they're the con men themselves, like they're in on all Frank's mischief. But the music also makes it so much more personal. That beautiful turn of melody is sort of a window into the character's hearts."
IF YOU GO
'Catch Me If You Can'
What: Broadway Live presentation of the touring Broadway musical
When: 8 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 2; 2 p.m. Feb. 2, 3
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $30-$100; available by calling (859) 233-3535 or via Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com.
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com.