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Hills Musical Theatre Company: Catch Me If You Can - Review by Jess Green

I had never seen Catch Me if You Can the movie, and had never seen or listened to the musical based on it, ever. But if it’s anything like what I saw from Hills Musical Theatre Company tonight, if I do so, I’m in for a fun time.

For those who don’t know; like me before 8 pm on Friday, Catch Me if You Can: The Musical loosely tells the story of the escapades of real-life ex-con Frank Abagnale Jr., his family, lovers and the FBI agents who tried (and often failed) to catch him led by the driven Carl Hanratty. With a book by the late, great Terrance McNally and music by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, the show is quick-witted and playful whilst also maintaining a whole lot of heart.

Director Rodrigo Medina Noël focuses on the narrative and the comedy of the show whilst still evoking the thrill of a mystery/crime drama. This is reflected in his actors' performances which are both joyous and sincere. Musical Director Mark Pigot has tamed this huge score and has led both the performers and his band to deliver fantastic work. The choreography by Janina Hamerlock is evocative of the era and has been tailored to suit both the performers and the Model Farm’s High School stage.

If I were to compare this role to another, Frank Abagnale Jr. is the male counterpart of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. To say the role is massive is an understatement and does not give enough credit to the individual playing them. Luke Harris, does a fantastic job. A performance entrenched with charm and charisma, whilst also maintaining boyish naivety. In regards to his vocal performance, Harris’ voice soars, moving with a score that could overwhelm other singers, demonstrating skill and stamina beyond his years.

Playing the other member of this odd couple is Peter Gollop as Carl Hanratty. Gollop’s Hanratty is quite a paternal figure, appearing as the only positive male influence in young Frank Jr.'s life. This is demonstrated clearly in the song “Little Boy Be a Man” which he shares with Frank’s actual father, where we see how Hanratty intends to break the cycle of the stereotypical male of the era, whilst Abagnale has fallen victim to it. Alongside a solid vocal performance, Gollop does a commendable job at bringing Hanratty to the stage.

Speaking of which, Murray Fane as the down-on-his-luck Frank Abagnale Snr. delivers a performance evocative of an old showman. His moments with Harris are some of the most enjoyable in the show. Whilst his role deals with some heavy subject matter, Fane is a joy to watch and clearly enjoys every second he is up on stage.

It’s a tough gig being one of the only leading ladies in a testosterone-filled show; especially if they only have one act to make their mark. However, Sarah Vandenberg makes it look easy as Frank Jr.'s authentic and love-struck girlfriend, Brenda Strong. Brenda is described; by her parents no less, as a plain Jane type but Vandenberg’s performance is anything but. This is exemplified in her solo “Fly, Fly Away” which she tackles with ease.

Rounding out the principal cast was Julianne Horne as Paula Abagnale, Frank’s beautiful but flawed mother, Jonathan Barons and Emma Rose as Roger and Carol Strong, Brenda’s less-than-supportive parents, Andrew McBain as family man Agent Branton, Jeremy Barons as the toxically-masculine Agent Cod and Cameron Drake as the goofy, newbie to the FBI, Agent Dollar who all had some great moments in this show, supporting the story from start to finish.

This show relies on the work of both its featured ensemble and ensemble members. They are the ones that push the show forward and provide some of the razzle-dazzle to Frank Jr.’s tale which, on the whole, they do very well. I’d like to take the time to give special shout-outs to Sam Henderson and Briana Nagy who I struggled to take my eyes off when they were onstage and genuinely wish I got to see more of the pair as they gave their all to every solo vocal line, character and dance move they had.

Now one thing I did know coming in to watch the show was that there were a lot of costumes, with some of them being very iconic. Gai Reckless has led her team to deliver these costumes well without making them look cheap, something we all know in the theatre world can happen due to time and budget constraints. One specific costume I loved was Frank Jr’s Pan Am pilot suit in “Jet Set”, which truly demonstrated the showman he is.

The set, designed by Noël and created by Keith MacBeth, Duncan Dodds and Sam Henderson is simple yet effective, allowing the band onstage behind a set of stairs stretching along its width, with some simple flats that support some of the properties. What caught my eye was the Projections which served as the backdrop to most scenes. Designed by Noël and William Pulley, the animations were reminiscent of a well-known modern, long-running animated crime/thriller comedy series that works in perfect cohesion with the show's vision.

When I arrived at the theatre, the first thing that hit me was the sense of community. This show and its production company ooze community theatre and I do not mean that negatively, honestly, it is a breath of fresh air. I loved the positive and supportive nature, a perfect environment that allows creatives both onstage and off to hone their skills. This is the vision statement made by the Hills Musical Theatre Company in its program that it lives up to.

Perhaps something to consider moving forward would be to have fewer blackouts, some scene changes that could have been done effectively by the ensemble lit up and still in character and some number cleaning issues, Catch Me if You Can: The Musical is, on the whole, an enjoyable watch and will have you leaving the theatre smiling and with tunes that will be stuck in your head for days. I give this show 3.5 forged bank checks out of 5. Well done cast, team and crew!

Photos courtesy of Grant Leslie Photography.

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