Catch Me If You Can at Dundalk Community Theatre

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They’re live in living color! Dundalk Community Theatre’s got something special on tonight! They’re live in living color— ‘cause life ain’t lived in black and white. Their production of Catch Me if You Can is live in living color and it’s something you should see! It’s God damn and gumbo fabulous— it won’t fit in your TV! Directed by Robert W. Oppel, with Musical Direction by Cecile Audette, and smashing choreography by Vincent Musgrave, this jazzy, fast-paced, happening musical is where it’s at in Charm City this spring!

Jim Baxter (center) as Frank Abagnale Jr. with the Frank Abagnale Jr. dancers for "Live in Living Color" in Catch Me If You Can
Jim Baxter (center) as Frank Abagnale Jr. with the Frank Abagnale Jr. dancers for “Live in Living Color” in Catch Me If You Can Dundalk Community Theatre

It’s a simple set— the whole concept is a fantastically easy one…a real story turned Hollywood Blockbuster turned musical, it’s the whole packaged deal. Tri-hat wearing design captain Marc W. Smith, responsible for lights, set, and sound, puts his know-how to the test and makes butter outta cream when it comes to the lovely simplistic layout of the set. The popping bright and colorful lights add all the extra pizzazz a hopping and happening show like this could hope for, particularly during the opening number, “Live in Living Color.” Smith finds great balance in his use of lighting employing blue tones and cool lights during the heavier numbers (like all the bluesy ones that Hanratty tackles) and warming things up when characters are on the go and soaring all over the stage.

What’s even more impressive than Smith’s snazzy know-how is all of the glorious outfits paraded around by the Frank Abagnale Jr. Dancers! Costume Designer Eva Grove proves that the clothes do make the man— or rather in this case the women— with everything from sexy and saucy pinstripe baseball suits to naughty nurse costumes and a whole lot else in-between. Grove’s main focus isn’t just outfitting the ensemble, however, she has to find the period appropriate suits, uniforms, and dresses that fit each character’s body and personality; this is a task to which she rises and earns her Pan-Am wings. The whole show looks swell, truly costumed to the period, the overall feeling of the performance, and the general mobility of all of these intense dance routines.

By far one of the most polished choreographic endeavors witnessed on the Dundalk Community Theatre’s stage in quite some time, Choreographer Vincent Musgrave has put on an honest to God spectacle with his choreography. Despite one too many power-charged upward fist-pumps to end big dance routines (and some might call it a signature closing move), Musgrave’s choreography is outstanding. Packed full of energy, as well as crisp, clean, uniformed moves, Musgrave moves the dancing ensemble (Olivia Aubele, Jillian Bauersfeld, Alyssa Bell, Lillian Blank, Derek Cooper, Zach Husak, Brian Jacobs, Mark Johnson, Clare Kneebone, Michael Leard, Kelsey Luchey, Roger Schulman, Tyrell Stanley, Lauren Stuart, Rachel Verhaaren) through enthusiastically engaging numbers like “Live and Living Color” “(Our) Family Tree” and several other fast-paced numbers in the opening act. Showcasing a myriad of styles and a variety of moves, Musgrave’s choreography is the best service the show could ask for, creating an entertaining evening for everyone watching.

Jim Baxter (center) as Frank Abagnale Jr. and the Frank Abagnale Jr. Dancers in Catch Me If You Can
Jim Baxter (center) as Frank Abagnale Jr. and the Frank Abagnale Jr. Dancers in Catch Me If You Can Dundalk Community Theatre

Musical Director Cecile Audette coaxes forth sublime sounds from individual performers as well as from the entirety of the cast when they sing together. In addition to really knowing the score— both of the show and how to handle it— Audette conducts a pristine orchestra, creating what is arguably the best live pit sound to arise at a Dundalk Community Theatre show in quite some time. The music is on beat, on pitch, and on tempo, and keeps flawlessly with the performers both in their song and their dance. Director Robert W. Oppel has assembled a fine cast to carry out this task as well. His overall pacing and progress of the show speaks wonders for his understanding of its nuance and craftsmanship.

Packed full of talented character performers, the ensemble features not only brilliant dancing but quality acting as well. Brian Jacobs, who serves as a cornball country bumpkin doctor, a stiff bartender, and several other character roles, is the perfect character man, as it were. Derek Cooper, playing Agent Dollar, has a fine sense of dim-witted comedic timing. Knuckle-heading around with his other two low-pay-grade agents (Roger Schulman and Zach Husak, respectively) they add some well-deserved comedic gems that help to lighten the mood whenever Hanratty is around.

Full of southern swagger, with an accent that is so over the top its hysterical, Tammy Oppel and Mark Lloyd play their cameo roles of Carol and Roger Strong, with superb comedic intent. Oppel and Lloyd are a scream as they work their way through the awkward scene that precedes “(Our) Family Tree”, with Oppel taking point on the southern shenanigans. Watch Oppel’s ridiculous attempts to get her flirt on with poor Frank Abagnale Jr., it’s hilarious. And Lloyd isn’t too far behind Oppel when it comes to comic nonsense with his intimidating presence and insanely tight bear hugs.

(L to R) Zach Husak as Agent Cod, Derek Cooper as Agent Dollar, Steve Antonsen as Carl Hanratty, and Roger Schulman as Agent Branton
(L to R) Zach Husak as Agent Cod, Derek Cooper as Agent Dollar, Steve Antonsen as Carl Hanratty, and Roger Schulman as Agent Branton Dundalk Community Theatre

The polar opposite of cracked family nuts is little Frankie’s own family, Paula Abagnale (Mary Elizabeth Hartsoe) and Frank Abagnale Sr. (Peter Crews.) Hartsoe assumes the role of the frigid, standoffish French mother, who loves her son from a distance but doesn’t distance herself from her lover. With a rich voice, albeit intentionally emotionally stunted, Hartsoe makes the most out of her big solo number in the second act, “Don’t Be a Stranger”, which morphs into a duet with Crews. Sharp, smothered in charisma, and fully invested in the character’s downward spiral, Crews is the perfect choice for Frank Abagnale Sr. He looks the part, he acts the part, he croons away like the barroom drunk that this shabby father character turns out to be. Filled with punch, pluck, and panache at the beginning of the show, Crews robustly fills out his half of “Butter Outta Cream”, the father-son duet that turns into a wild show-stopping number. Crews’ deftly navigates the character’s tragic trajectory in a way that makes us empathize with Frank Sr., even though the character often does not deserve such sympathies.

While she only appears in the second act, little Miss Lindsey Litka is putting her mark all over this production as Brenda Strong. Though she’s only given one true solo number in which to shine, it’s all Litka needs to put her Broadway-worthy voice out into the auditorium. Belting her face off all through “Fly, Fly Away”, the vocal precision, emotional accuracy, and overall sensational sound that reverberates straight up from the character’s soul and out into our ears is nothing short of phenomenal. Congenial to the last, convivial to the nines, Litka’s Brenda is the perfect temperance to Frank Jr.’s wild ways. Her earnest approach to the character serves as a grounding tether to Jim Baxter’s Frank Abagnale Jr., and together they create a vocal and visual masterpiece, particularly  when gliding through their shared duet, “Seven Wonders.”

It’s not the clothes that make the man, and his voice won’t keep you guessing because he’s got the world at his command, and he’ll be your one-man Disneyland! He’s live in living color— that Jim Baxter— taking on the role of Frank Abagnale Jr. with rigorous vivacity. Emotionally charged, vocally powerful, and intriguingly invested in the character’s vast story arc, Baxter is a triple threat— a proper triple-crown winner when it comes to his singing, dancing, and acting. Possessed with the earnest vocal maturity to carry this show from start to finish and still present the juvenile nature of Frank Abagnale Jr., Baxter soars through his narrations, sails through his songs, and smoothly sweeps this production up as a huge win in the success column; Frank Abagnale Jr. himself would be proud of all his masterful stage chicanery!

Baxter has striking stage chemistry, both with ingénue Brenda Strong (the aforementioned Lindsey Litka) and the antagonistically bombastic Agent Carl Hanratty (Steven Antonsen.) Baxter dominates the stage with his pristine presence, prowling about as the smooth-operator that Frank Jr. is meant to be. This is particularly true whenever he takes on a new guise— be it doctor or airline pilot. He opens the show with a proper vocal explosion, for “Live in Living Color” and carries that same exuberant energy all throughout the performance. “Seven Wonders” is a stunning song that is filled with compassion and immeasurable emotional depth. While Baxter only shares two proper songs opposite Antonsen’s Hanratty— “My Favorite Time of Year” at the end of act one and “Stuck Together (Strange But True)” at the end of the show— the chemistry he cultivates with him creates the proper level of thrilling engagement required for this cat-and-mouse chase plot to work effectively upon the audience.

Steve Antonesen (center) as Carl Hanratty and the ensemble of Catch Me If You Can
Steve Antonesen (center) as Carl Hanratty and the ensemble of Catch Me If You Can Dundalk Community Theatre

Antonsen, as the tightly wound, high-strung Carl Hanratty, is a true gem of the stage, equally matched against Baxter in this show. He really puts on the juice and isn’t just a flatfoot when it comes to dancing either, and this is well observed in his first big breakout number, “Don’t Break the Rules.” Antonsen is so jazzed up for this number, he makes you want to break all the rules, leap out of your seat, and dance alongside of him! With a bombastic burst of blues heat and jazz, as well as a superb voice, Antonsen nails numbers like “The Man Inside The Clues” balancing its humorous opening with its heavy ending to perfection. A real punch of personality, Antonsen is perfectly matched against Baxter in this show and the pair make it truly sensational.

If you’re jet setting anywhere this weekend, you better hop on over to Dundalk Community Theatre, because they truly are live in living color— living the dream of an outstanding, stellar, and stunning musical with their production of Catch Me If You Can.

Running Time: 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission

Catch Me If You Can plays through May 6, 2018 at Dundalk Community Theatre at CCBC Dundalk in the John E. Ravekes Theatre— 7200 Sollers Point Rd. in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 285-9667 or purchase them online.

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