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THEATER REVIEW: “Catch Me If You Can” at the Moonlight

My nomination for the cheekiness award is Frank Abagnale Jr., the well-known con man whose first fraud victim was his own father.

Before he was 21, young Frank had impersonated a co-pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and a college professor, among others. He was sentenced to prison in France, Sweden and the U.S. and served about five years out of 12-plus total years in sentences.

He came to the world’s attention when Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the 2002 film “Catch Me If You Can,” and his exploits became the stuff of musical comedy in 2011, when the musical hit Broadway.

Larry Raben directs Moonlight Stage Productions’ sprightly Southern California Regional premiere of the musical through Sept. 27 at Moonlight Amphitheatre.

The musical version sports a book by playwright Terrence McNally, music by Marc Shaiman and lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, all used in the service of what is at heart a dance show featuring a succession of production numbers executed by high-stepping chorus girls and choreographed by Karl Warden.

The plot tells the story of FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Josh Adamson) and his attempts to catch Frank (Jacob Haren) in one of his many cons. It proved to be a challenge.

When Frank’s dad (Robert Neary) brings home that 13-inch color TV in 1964 (“Live In Living Color”), Frankie decides he wants a colorful life, and one with lots of girls in it. When Frank Sr. runs out of money and Frankie is moved from private to public school, the new principal soon calls the parents in to tell them Frankie has been “teaching” a French class – and planning a field trip to a French fry factory.

His most famous exploit – passing himself off (with fake ID) as a co-pilot memorialized in the “Jet Set” number – seems so easy (and after all, his businessman dad had told him “People only know what you tell ‘em, Frankie”).

His life changes when he gets himself in over his head by claiming to be Dr. Connors, a Harvard-educated physician. Here he meets nurse Brenda Strong (Heather Lundstedt), who will become his staunchest defender. He will also realize that more than the fun of the con is at stake in this job.

Everybody loves a scoundrel, and Adamson and Haren make this cat-and-mouse game a fascinating story, the clever crook eluding the klutzy agents at almost every turn. Perhaps even more interesting is that after his release from prison, Abagnale went to work for the FBI and now runs a private security firm, helping prevent the kinds of crimes he committed.

Many of the songs (especially in the first act) sound alike and are almost an afterthought (making the musical seem more disjointed than the film), but even so, the production numbers built around them will keep you watching.

Robert Neary and Tracy Lord are excellent as Frank’s parents, and Lundstedt is appealing as Brenda. The dancing corps shows great energy and talent.

The rented sets, props and costumes (with local coordination by Roslyn Lehman, Renetta Lloyd and Carlotta Malone) are excellent, as are Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Chris Luessmann’s sound design.

“Catch Me If You Can” closes out a high quality, entertaining summer season for Moonlight.

The details

“Catch Me If You Can” plays through Sept. 27 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 1200 Vale Terrace Drive (Brengle Terrace Park), Vista, California.

Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 pm.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.