Uptown Players travels the world in ‘Catch Me;’ WTT donates to ‘Charity’
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor
With Mad Men off the air, lovers of the 1960s must be craving a fix. That’s all that could explain why three shows — Catch Me If You Can from Uptown Players, Sweet Charity from WaterTower Theatre and Motown the Musical (See story Page 26) — opened within a week of each other. And what different visions of the Hippie Decade they present.
Catch Me isn’t actually from the ’60s, it’s just set there — not the pot-fueled crazy ‘60s you probably think of. In 1967, The Stones, The Doors and The Beatles all has No. 1 Billboard hits … but so did Frank and Nancy Sinatra and Lulu; it’s the latter that speak to Catch Me’s demographic.
The concept of the show is best expressed in Act 2, when a conservative Southern family gather ’round the TV to watch Mitch Miller’s Sing Along: It’s the new TV generation where variety shows make American life seem glamorous. That’s the experience Frank Abagnale Jr. (Anthony Fortino) had, believing the world was a shiny, consequence-free oyster, a message proudly passed along to him by his glad-handing tax-cheat dad Frank Sr. (David Lugo, as slick as a seagull next to the Exxon Valdez). Frank Jr. learns early to become a con man in an era before cell phone and Internet connectivity, kiting checks, impersonating airline pilots and medical doctors, all before he was old enough to vote … and all with a smile and a flirtatious glance. No Nigerian prince needed to bilk these marks out of their money. That irks the by-the-book FBI slog Carl Hanratty (Christopher Curtis), who employs yeoman detective work in tracking him down.
The book of the musical, by Terrence McNally, is wafer thin (based on the equally trivial-if-entertaining movie by Spielberg); there’s no there there. We’re meant to be charmed by Frank — he’s a classic anti-hero — but I felt rather bullied into “admiring” him, when really, he was just some petulant kid who robbed people. The score (by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) reinforces this effervescent inconsequentiality; the songs are melodically interchangeable, at least until the sentimentality sinks in in the second half with the lovely ballads “Seven Wonders” and “Fly, Fly Away.” For the first half hour, I wasn’t sure when one song ended and other began.
But if the show itself has all the substance of a meringue, this production is a delicious, hearty dessert. Director Cheryl Denson’s staging is one of the most effortless in recent memory, quickly changing scenes (and exquisite costumes — it’s one of the best-looking shows of the summer) with a magician’s sleight-of-hand. It’s infectiously energetic, and the first act breezes by so quickly you barely notice when intermission arrives.
Many of the performers are just wonderful, far surpassing the material. Fortino is one of North Texas’ most charismatic young actors, with a strong voice and a winning smile; you see why people fell for Frank’s shtick, since you feel the same about Fortino. In addition to Lugo, Maranda Harrison as his girlfriend stands out among the strong cast. (The weak spot is Curtis’ Hanratty, who gets away with more mugging than Central Park on New Year’s Eve. He’s less Eliot Ness than Barney Fife.)
Even without much meat on its bones, Catch Me If You Can is in some ways the perfect August theatergoing experience: As lightweight, cool and diverting as a beach read, or as perky as a summer jam.
Up in Addison, the ‘60s look bleaker for Charity Hope Valentine (Whitney Hennen), the unlucky-in-love taxi dancer who gets abused by a series bum relationship. If you’re asking, “What in the hell is a taxi dancer?” well, that’s the time-capsule effect of doing a 50-year-old musical about a “modern” woman. Surprisingly, though, Sweet Charity — written by Neil Simon and with a score filled with some showtune staples (“Big Spender,” “I’m the Bravest Individual,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”) — still has the power to entertain, quaint old-fashioned-ness and all.
But while Catch Me is a weak show getting a great treatment, Charity is a solid show on some shaky production footing. The brass section — key to the score — is off-key, much of the dancing lacks both precision and force and the wigs are a disaster; Charity gets only two costume changes the whole night. Shame, shame.
But Hennen’s squeaky Lina Lamont voice, her upbeat attitude and moon-faced smile strikes the perfect note that brings both pathos and comedy. And Luke Longacre, who plays two of Charity’s boyfriends, expertly transforms himself from smooth movie star Vittorio to nebbishy hypochondriac Oscar. A good laugh can hide a lot of sins.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 31, 2015.