Word of mouth -- an underrated publicity bazooka if ever there was one -- along with theatrical daredevil Norbert Leo Butz’s off-the-chart rendition of “Don’t Break the Rules” on the 2011 Tony Awards broadcast, has (most deservedly, I might add) swept the high-octane musical comedy Catch Me If You Can out of the shadows and into an ever-expanding spotlight that has first-time audiences exiting the show in a “yowza” state of mind and ticket sales in a hearty upward spiral.
“We’d been pretty much flying under the radar,” says leading man Aaron Tveit, who plays the pivotal role of Frank Abagnale, Jr., the true-life, world-class con-artist who managed to pull off impersonating a jet pilot, a doctor and an attorney -- all before his 21st birthday.
The show is based on the book and 2002 Steven Spielberg film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale, Jr. and Tom Hanks as his Javert, FBI agent Carl Hanratty. (Butz took home the Best Actor in a Musical Tony for his portrayal of Hanratty.)
According to Tveit (pictured below, far left), the musical’s multi-generational popularity is one of its greatest assets, with older audience members who lived through the show’s swinging-sixties backdrop (bring on those Hullabaloo fashion statements and faux white Christmas trees!) getting every timely reference. (Bonus points from the senior set for a Sing Along with Mitch TV show extravaganza. Gen-Xers and trickle-down generations reading this should check out Mitch Miller and his gang on YouTube -- pretty surreal stuff five decades later.)
Still, it’s the savvy way the book (by four-time Tony winner Terrence McNally), score (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the Tony-winning team behind Hairspray), and first-rate cast brings the post-Kennedy era to life that so brilliantly blurs the age appeal of Catch Me If You Can. This is a full-bodied musical that doesn’t skimp on mind-blowing production numbers, familial quirks (and heartbreaks) as well as a genuine twist of fate that redefines personal redemption before the final curtain falls to a buoyant standing ovation.
And Tveit -- one of Broadway’s most winning young actors -- hits the ground running from the opening moments of what is (aside from intermission) a pedal-to-the-metal performance. “My role is basically a two-and-a-half-hour athletic event,” he admits, thus when he’s off-duty he’s as rigorous about preserving his stamina as the most dedicated tri-athlete.
“I don’t drink, I don’t go out after the show, I rest as much as possible, and get massages regularly,” Tveit says, adding that sticking to these disciplines has allowed him to survive his nightly singing and dancing cat-and-mouse sprint for months at time.
Good thing, since he’s playing in a league with some pretty powerful teammates, including Broadway veteran Tom Wopat (exceptional as his father, Frank Abagnale, Sr.), Kerry Butler (who last starred on Broadway in Xanadu) as the young nurse who wins his heart, and Rachel de Benedet as his graceful and beautiful French mother. And, of course, the incomparable Mr. Butz (below), whose chemistry with Tveit is not only fun, but also surprisingly touching. This is particularly evident in a phone conversation leading up to the song “My Favorite Time of Year,” in which both characters relate on a “Oh my God, I’m alone on Christmas and opening up to my adversary” moment.
Still, for Tveit, the most rewarding aspect of playing the role was having the real Frank Abagnale, Jr. on hand. “To be able to actually talk to him, to ask him what he was thinking, and so on... that is amazing to me as an actor,” he says, adding how the script makes a point of bringing Mr. Abagnale’s story full circle by not merely showing him as a teenage grifter with a charming wink and smile, but rather, like the film, immortalizing Abagnale’s transformation into one of the FBI’s top authorities in the areas of fraud, embezzlement, and secure documents -- an association he has maintained for over 35 years.
“Frank comes back to the show for Thursday night talkbacks a couple of times a month,” concludes Tveit. “Never announced beforehand, just a post-show invitation to stay after and meet the man behind the story.”
Catch Me If You Can is currently playing at the Neil Simon Theater, 250 W. 52nd St. For tickets, call 877-250-2929 or click here.