The Broadway Live series continued at the Lexington Opera House on Thursday night with the opening of Catch Me If You Can, the true story about an audacious young con man, Frank Abagnale Jr., in the 1960s. This non-Equity touring production, from Troika Entertainment, is lavish and colorful, though not without its faults, and the first-night audience received it with a standing ovation.
The stage for the 2011 musical — by Terrence McNally, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and based on Stephen Spielberg's 2002 film — is dominated by a sweeping curved platform that holds the phenomenal small orchestra, led with charisma by Matthew Smedal, and a giant fiber-optics cyclorama, both of which serve as a canvas for eye-popping, constantly morphing scenic and lighting display, designed by David Rockwell and Kenneth Posner. With the addition of imaginative costumes by William Ivey Long, this is a handsome show.
The choreography by Jerry Mitchell knits the musical together, lending visual impact and narrative flow. It definitely helps to enliven the undistinguished score, which is like second-shelf Hairspray, the earlier Shaiman-and-Wittman hit show, also derived from 1960s pop music. Nevertheless, the ensemble brings the material vividly to life through dance and the intelligent stage direction by Jack O'Brien. I especially like that the ensemble is cast with some performers with body types not traditionally seen in dance-heavy shows; the heavier-set actors are among the best dancers.
Abagnale is usually played on this tour by Stephen Anthony. But this was one of those performances in which the main character's understudy went on for opening night. It is safe to say that a star was not born, but Ben Laxton gave a valiant effort to carry the show with his modest vocal and dramatic skills. My companion at the theater suggested that he might have been marshalling his resources to make it through this strenuous role, but his vocalism was thin and bland. He did put the character across, and the audience duly expressed its appreciation for him.
In the other leading role, that of Agent Hanratty who trails and finally catches Abagnale, Merritt David Janes gives an engaging, naturalistic performance, and his experience in the part helped to carry Laxton solidly through the evening. As Abagnale's love interest Brenda, Aubrey Mae Davis provides a sweet and pretty presence and puts across the best song in the show, Fly, Fly Away, with fervor and strong vocal chops.
The important roles of Abagnale's parents are played by Dominic Fortuna and Caitlin Maloney, but do not come off as strongly as they could. Fortuna is slick and charming, but his descent into drunken dereliction is not convincing, and Maloney's ersatz French accent is practically unintelligible. In fact, it was hard to understand most of the words in this show.
Part of the problem is lazy diction and part of it is underpowered vocalism (the directors clearly chose to cast actors over singers in the main parts). However, the audience should never have to fight to understand the text they paid good money to hear: That is the performers' job, and this cast as a whole should improve a lot in that regard.
All in all, though, Catch Me If You Can is an enjoyable, entertaining evening in the theater with a diverting story, pleasant songs and elegant, exciting production values. It continues through Sunday at the Opera House.
IF YOU GO
'Catch Me If You Can'
What: Broadway Live presentation of the touring Broadway musical
When: 8 p.m. Feb. 1, 2; and 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.
Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.