Aaron Tveit and company in Catch Me If You Can
(© Joan Marcus)
Aaron Tveit and company in Catch Me If You Can
(© Joan Marcus)
The myriad producers of the new musical Catch Me If You Can, now at the Neil Simon Theatre, deserve to pat themselves -- and each other -- on the back for hiring the wonderful Norbert Leo Butz, who immeasurably enlivens the intermittently involving proceedings as frumpy FBI man Carl Hanratty, who chases young imposter Frank Abagnale Jr. (Aaron Tveit) across the country.

Frank -- the 16-year-old runaway son of divorcing parents Frank Sr. (Tom Wopat) and Paula (Rachel de Benedet) -- flees from New Rochelle to New York City, where he cashes a million dollars worth of counterfeit checks, after which, the young lad successfully passes himself off first as a high-flying Pan Am pilot and, then, as a Harvard-educated doctor.

While working in an Atlanta hospital, he meets nurse Brenda Strong (Kerry Butler) and takes her back to New Orleans, where he impresses her Lutheran parents Roger (Nick Wyman) and Carol (the always adorable Linda Hart) and looks to settle down among them. That's when he's slips up enough to allow comically frustrated Hanratty to prevail.

No matter how much diligent work is done by Butz, as well as director Jack O'Brien, songwriters Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman, choreographer Jerry Mitchell, set designer David Rockwell, and costume designer William Ivey Long -- a sextet instantly recognized as the team behind the far more entertaining Hairspray -- Terrence McNally's skimpy and unexciting book fails to engage audiences much of the time. Moreover, despite its origins in truth, the story often doesn't feel credible.

Unlike Steven Spielberg's delightful fim adaptation, the musical has Frank recounting his escapades within the context of a 1960s television variety hour. This device has the unfortunate effect of making the show no more engaging than a typical 1960s television variety hour like Hullabaloo.

Indeed, the work too often resembles those now-forgettable shows of the 1950s and 1960s, which always incorporated a chorus-line of leggy women in skimpy costumes who showed up repeatedly to put a smile on the faces of the so-called "tired businessmen" in the audience (who today might not just be tired, but possibly unemployed).

The show also takes about 45 minutes to really flare into action -- until Butz throws his dumpy back into "Don't Break the Rules." The Tony Award-winning actor scores again in the finale, when he joins the consistently slick (but not especially charismatic) Tveit for a buddy number called "Strange But True." Few of the other numbers really stand out, although Butler heats up the stage late in the second act with the acceptable power-ballad. "Fly, Fly Away."

As for Wopat, he steps center-stage a few times to impress with his virile, off-hand stylings. But the actor is also saddled with trying to render meaningful Frank Sr.'s sketchily-presented slide into alcoholism. It's just one of the many missteps that causes Catch Me If You Can to be a less-than-ideal catch.