All an act

Playhouse South presents Catch Me If You Can

By Tim Smith

Photo: Frank Abagnale Sr. (Jeffrey M. Payne) dances with wife Paula (Sandy Coleman) in Playhouse South’s Catch Me If You Can, May 5-14 at Clark Haines Theater

Two things in life are certain: some people will do anything for a buck (often illegally), and some guys will alter the truth to impress girls. When these worlds collide, it proves the old adage that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. This is the premise behind the Playhouse South production of Catch Me If You Can, based on the career of professional con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr.

Seeking fame and fortune, Abagnale runs away from home as a teenager to begin an unforgettable adventure. With nothing more than his boyish charm, a big imagination, and millions of dollars in forged checks, he successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer—living the high life to win the girl of his dreams. When Frank’s lies catch the attention of FBI agent Carl Hanratty, though, Hanratty pursues Abagnale across the country to make him pay for his crimes. In 2002, the story was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg, starring Leonardo Di Caprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks as Hanratty.

The stage musical version of Catch Me If You Can opened at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre in April 2011, with a libretto by Terrence McNally and a theatrical score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. A majority of the plot is borrowed from the film, which was based on Abagnale’s 1980 autobiography. The production received four Tony Award nominations, including one for Best Musical. Norbert Leo Butz won for Best Actor in a Musical. However, the show closed in September of that year, in spite of the awards and generally favorable reviews.

Playhouse South’s production is directed by Donna Cason with Assistant Director Nicole Sword; musical direction is by Elliot Hetzer and Kristen Beireis; and choreography by Annette Looper.

According to Cason, a committee selects the productions for each season.

“Playhouse South members are invited each year to submit suggestions to the board for the upcoming season,” Cason says. “The board then chooses from these submissions to find a good balance for the season. We try to include newer shows, maybe an edgy show, a family friendly production, etc. When I was asked to direct Catch Me If You Can, I already knew the story, so I sat down with the script and the soundtrack. Three songs into it, I was hooked. I kept thinking, ‘Yes! I have to do this!’”

The show is described as “a high-flying musical comedy about chasing your dreams and not getting caught.” The musical numbers include “Live in Living Color,” “Someone Else’s Skin,” “Christmas Is My Favorite Time of Year,” and “Don’t Break the Rules.” Cason notes that the cast members had to demonstrate their diversity during the audition process.

“Auditions are held over three evenings,” she says. “The first two nights are general auditions where actors come in and sing for us, then they learn a dance routine and read for parts they want. The third night we call back actors we think can do the roles and have them sing and read with other actors to find the best combinations. All of our performers are local. Then the work gets hard for production staff because there is a lot of talent out there!”

She points out that there are inherent challenges in presenting a Broadway show in a community theatre setting.

“When new shows appear on Broadway,” Cason says, “they’ve had a few years of rehearsals, re-writes, and out-of-town runs to make sure everything is right. It’s a full-time job. We get eight weeks of rehearsals with volunteers who give up their evenings and weekends to make sure we put on a quality production. And we get a much smaller budget!”

In addition, “When we contract to do a show, we are not allowed to make changes or cuts,” she continues. “However, the script we are sent usually isn’t the original Broadway show. Most often they will license the touring production script, which can be different—sometimes a lot different. Verses may be cut from songs, and dialogue may be added.”

Catch Me If You Can follows the trend of turning non-musical films into Broadway musical comedies. It joins a long list, including Elf: The Musical, It’s a Wonderful Life, Young Frankenstein, The Toxic Avenger; and 9 to 5. Cason has handled these types of adaptations before and thinks there is a reason why popular films get re-imagined as musicals.

“It’s funny, but 9 to 5 was the first show I did with Playhouse South,” she says. “I think the only way to make a good story better is to add music! Of the shows we present, musicals seem to be the most popular, but the classics have a great following, too.”

Cason hopes that the audience enjoys the true but fanciful tale, while also appreciating the irony of the situation, “A young con man who got away with impersonating a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, all because he liked girls,” she says.

“The cast and crew are having a wonderful time and can’t wait for the opportunity to show everyone the result of all the hard work we’ve put into this. As Hanratty says, ‘The game ain’t worth winning if you’re breaking all the rules!’”


Playhouse South’s Catch Me If You Can takes the stage at the Clark Haines Theater, 3750 Far Hills Ave. in Kettering on May 5, 6, 12, and 13 at 8 p.m., and May 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults; $13 for seniors, students, and military personnel. For tickets or more information, please call 888.262.3792 or visit 


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Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at

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