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Well, my "little vacation" ended up lasting two and a half years... funny how life steers your life in directions you weren't planning on. I'll start off with occasional posts, but I fully plan to resume this blog to full speed by the new year.

I hope you'll come back for frequent visits, to see new reviews, to share opinions, to take a survey (or two), and to celebrate the shows and show people that have made the TheatreScene!

Jeff

Saturday, September 3, 2011

CD REVIEW: Catch Me If You Can

My favorite musical of the 2010 - 2011 season, Catch Me If You Can will close this Sunday after a mere 32 previews and 166 performances.  I found it to be elegant, smart and sexy.  I love shows that offer a challenge along with the obvious entertainment.  Everyone involved offered up just that, theatricalizing a book, film and actual life story.  I found the show's framework - a 60's style variety show - to be a fitting and theatrical way of telling an epic cat and mouse game in a way that made it all work in just over two hours.  The direction was sleek, fast-paced, and, despite knowing how it all turns out before the show even starts, managed to keep you on the edge of your seat.   The score, matching the show's time and framework, is equally challenging and high quality, and that is the subject of my review today.

Grade: A+



Title: Catch Me If You Can
Artist: Original Broadway Cast Recording
Label: Ghostlight Records
Number: 8-4449
Format: Single CD
Case: Single Jewel Case
Booklet: Full color production photos; complete lyrics; essays by Frank Abagnale, Jr.
Bonus: Extra track of a song cut from the show, "Fifty Checks," sung by Tom Wopat.

Aaron Tveit and Norbert Leo Butz


Of the Show and Its Stars, I Wrote: "If history is any guide, I’m pretty sure critics will be divided on this show, but don’t wait for a revival 10 years from now at Encores! to decide that this show works brilliantly on every level. See it now, and soak it all in. With The Book of Mormon, we have a celebrated meta-musical comedy; with Catch Me If You Can, we have a superb concept musical.  And who better to take us there than almost the entire creative team of the blockbuster musical Hairspray, which itself took the traditional form to new comedic and socially important heights? Yes, composers Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have re-joined forces with director and choreography dream team Jack O’Brien and Jerry Mitchell, who have in turn re-joined with designers David Rockwell (sets), William Ivey Long (costumes), and Kenneth Posner (lighting) to create a completely different world than they took us to before. (Beyond the people themselves, there really is no other valid comparison to Hairspray – to come in expecting that would be like expecting King Lear to be anything like The Odd Couple. Both shows are great on their own.) This world that is as debonair and sleek as a 60’s new Boeing 727, full of innocent double entendres, sexy chorus girls and boys seemingly unaware of, yet basking in, their own steaming hotness, and a juicy story about getting away with everything but murder and coming out on top. All played to a soundtrack (not literally: the magnificent orchestra is in full view nearly all the time) of suave Sinatra-esque songs, and a cheeky modern jazz score that titillates as much as it pleases the ear.

"Live in Living Color"

"It isn’t often that you come across a love triangle involving three men, but that is the real meat of this story. And how amazing it is that all three are being given such grand treatment in three Tony-worthy performances. Tom Wopat gets the lion’s share of the heavy emotional content in this show. We see a man who really only wants to make life better for his wife and son, but can’t see that living by such credos as “The Pinstripes Are All They See” as a way to get around authority, and such platitudes as “Don’t Be a Stranger” and “Little Boy, Be a Man,” aren’t really the stuff of good parenting.  Then there is the honorable life led by FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, warmly played – through a veneer of g-man stiffness – by Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz.  We see the workings of the FBI as frustrating as they are through “Don’t Break the Rules,” and a little inside the man as he tries to out think his con man adversary in “The Man Inside the Clues.”   Aaron Tveit has found the first role, of many one hopes, that proves he can carry a show on his considerably young and talented shoulders. He has turned in a thoroughly engaging, exciting performance as Frank, Jr. It is a role that has huge demands in the singing (his big closer “Good-Bye” is a huge power belt number in the greatest Broadway tradition), dancing (he matches the entire ensemble step for step) and acting areas. We must believe he is smart way beyond his years, mature enough to make smart people believe he could be a pilot or doctor, charming and sexy enough to bed Playboy bunnies, and charismatic enough to woo an innocent girl, her family and a grizzled FBI agent. Tveit has the charming, sexy and high quality singing voice down pat. But this role shows that he is a true triple threat. With Catch Me If You Can he is a full-fledged Broadway star."



"Doctor's Orders" and "Jet Set"

Of the Score, I Wrote: "This world that is as debonair and sleek as a 60’s new Boeing 727, full of innocent double entendres, sexy chorus girls and boys seemingly unaware of, yet basking in, their own steaming hotness, and a juicy story about getting away with everything but murder and coming out on top. All played to a soundtrack (not literally: the magnificent orchestra is in full view nearly all the time) of suave Sinatra-esque songs, and a cheeky modern jazz score that titillates as much as it pleases the ear.   The homey sweetness of the production numbers from weekly variety shows of the Perry Como/Lawrence Welk ilk, as well as the sexy, dazzling, send-the-kids-to-bed-before-it-starts variety shows that were star vehicles for one performer – like Mitzi Gaynor, and later, Liza Minnelli. You know just the kind of numbers I mean – a common setting, a risqué arrangement of a familiar tune, and costumed dancers in the tightest possible versions of setting appropriate costumes, with the star bedazzled in sequins from head to toe. Each number is carefully constructed to please everyone – the song lover, the singer lover, and the blush inducing dancer lovers. The show has an abundance of such numbers – the airline-themed “The Jet Set,” and the hospital-themed “Doctor’s Orders” – to name but two."

Of this Recording, I say: First and foremost, I think all of us who love musical theatre need to thank Ghostlight Records for recording so many shows that not too long ago would have gone by the wayside.  Catch Me If You Can, with its short run, would probably have gone without a cast recording.  As usual, Ghostlight has delivered a top notch product, from the full color booklet to a terrific sound.
Marc Shaiman and Larry Blank's vibrant orchestrations, under the direction of John McDaniel sound simply gorgeous, played by a full jazz orchestra.  They were great live onstage, and certainly do not disappoint here.  And, absent of the visual, the score is even more vivid and exciting when one can concentrate on the music and lyrics (by Shaiman and Scott Wittman).  What was terrific in passing while the show was going on, is even more fun just listening to it.  In the theatre, I knew I liked the score.  After listening to the CD, I really appreciate the wit and intelligence of the songs. 

The score itself is a mix of theatre music, torch songs and period/genre specific numbers.  And yet, and much of a mix as there is, the score is a cohesive whole.  There are times when you expect Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin, cigarette and scotch glass in hand, to start crooning the smooth jazzy numbers - "The Pinstripes Are All They See," "The Man Inside the Clues."  Or maybe Perry Como comes to mind when hearing the clever story-song "Butter Outta Cream" or "Seven Wonders." 

"Seven Wonders"
(Aaron Tveit and Kerry Butler)

"Little Boy, Be a Man"
(Norbert Leo Butz and Tom Wopat)


And of course the big dance numbers performed by all those innocently sexy boys and girls of the ensembles of all the best variety shows come across pretty well here, too.  In the show, they are "The Frank Abagnale, Jr. Players" and here, as there, they come across well, excellent singers, all, in such numbers as "The Jet Set" and "Doctor's Orders."  Of course, it is sad that one can't see what goes with these numbers - the dancing and staging really make the big numbers - "Live in Living Color" especially, and the smaller, stagier numbers like "Don't Be a Stranger."

Stand-out Numbers:  The whole recording is terrific, but there are several songs I find myself playing over and over.  Surprisingly, the awesome-as-you-watch-it-number "Don't Break the Rules" isn't one of them - you really need to see that number to fully appreciate it.  But I love the following: "The Pinstripes Are All That They See," with Tom Wopat's suave song-stylings and the back up of the girls.  "Doctor's Orders" is a sexy double-entendre number, featuring great vocals from Candace Marie Woods.  I love the emotion behind two of Norbet Leo Butz's numbers, "The Man Inside the Clues" and his poignant duet with Aaron Tveit, "Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year."  But it is the upbeat numbers that set my feet a-tappin' (I literally have trouble sitting still when I drive): "Live In Living Color," "Jet Set."  But my two absolute favorite songs are the infectious "(Our) Family Tree," a (literally) sing Along with Mitch production number, and the powerful "Goodbye," which is gloriously sung by Mr. Tveit.  For me those two numbers alone reveal a really terrific show sadly under appreciated.

Here's hoping national audiences embrace the National Tour.

(Photos by Joan Marcus)


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Jeff
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