Review by Tulis McCall
(11 Apr 2011)
Norbert Leo Butz. You have to figure that anyone growing up with that name had to learn how to handle himself on the grammar school playground. Perhaps that early training is responsible for making him so fleet of foot, easy and loose in his stage presence and spot on with his delivery whether it be spoken or sung.
In which case, I suppose it is his parents we must collectively thank, because it is the very same Norbert Leo Butz that is the only reason to go see this musical. He is beyond a pleasure. He is a song and dance man that makes you want to join the party.
The other performers are okay. Aaron Tveit as Frank Abagnale, Jr. a/k/a Frank Jujnior (this is how you know it’s a true story. Names like Abagnale don’t get put into fiction) is just fine. And it is not his fault that the book by Terrence McNally gives him the short end of the stick as far as interesting lines, not that this is a phenomenal book. As written, the story isn’t about Frank Junior in the technical sense, because he doesn’t want anything except to go to the next adventure. As a royal flashback, we see that the person who wants something, hence driving the action, is Agent Carl Hanratty (Butz). He is the FBI agent who wants Frank Junior on charges of counterfeiting to the tune of over 1 million bucks. He wants him bad. Hanratty especially wants Frank Junior when he realizes that Frank Junior is a kid. When Frank Junior begins his adventures he is 16, a runaway with parents who don’t care or care in the wrong ways. Hanratty not only wants to catch Frank Junior, he wants to save him.
Frank Junior meanwhile is blissfully unaware that anyone cares anything about him. He is plowing his way through women all over the world as he masquerades as a pilot. When that trail runs dry he passes himself off as a doctor and supervises an Emergency Room. It is here that he meets the only “girl” who could pass for being a virgin and is dressed the part. Brenda Strong (Kerry Butler) is the best nurse in the joint and when Frank Junior gets close to her purity and dedication he is helpless. Love is his Achilles heel, it turns out. It is McNally’s as well.
But why me, Frank? You could have any nurse here. You know girls from everywhere. You've been to Paris, and Italy, and think of all the beautiful women there must be in Germany. Why me?
Because...I love that you work hard and you’re good at your job. I love that I can just be myself with you. I love that you always tell the truth.
Anyway, Frank Junior slows down to get married to Brenda, but that pause is all the Feds need. The Feds close in, and Frank Junior flees, Brenda is broken hearted and sings what is the oddest song in the entire evening “Fly, Fly Away” – it is as if the song was added as an after thought to give Butler something to do besides be pure.
In the last scene, Hanratty finally catches up to Frank Junior and another kind of love, a father-son kind of love, is born. Sigh.
I know. I know. Everyone is going to go gaga over this one. Fine, just as long as they lay garlands at Butz’s feet.
And the simple proof is this: the show goes along nicely – a soft gentle flow of women in mini skirts who say nothing because they are just boobs and bottoms, and unmemorable songs by and about men who must meet their challenges head on and beat life at its own game. Then halfway through the first act comes “Don’t Break the Rules” featuring Hanratty and Company, and the show stops. It stops because audiences are not stupid, and although they will accept a lot, when they come face to face with the real deal, they know it. The song is zippy, the choreography great and Butz kicks the show up about ten notches. The applause goes on so long that Butz has worked out a way to stay in character and call off the cheers.
So in comparison to Butz, Tveit comes off as young and certainly talented, but a little bland, like the show itself. He has a beautiful voice and is working his tucchus off up there right up until that last song where he nearly gives himself a high-five for making through the show (He is in almost every scene). Everyone is giving it 100% up there. Tom Wopat is a wonderful singer, although he has yet to figure out what to do with his arms and moves about like a man used to carrying a drink and a microphone. Linda Hart as Carol Strong adds a blast of sparkle to the evening. Rachel de Benedet is lovely to look at and has great costumes. And the dancers, the dancers the fantastic dancers!!! As always, they give the show its backbone. Too bad they never get a tap number to do. They and the music are itching for one.
That’s it. That’s the ballgame. Great sound and noise (the superb orchestra is onstage in white tuxes that match their skin-tones, and of course there not a woman in the bunch) that in the end amount to a medium sized blip on the radar.
It’s Butz alone at the finish line. He takes the lead at the near turn and by the end he is ahead of the pack by several lengths. All they can do is eat his dust and smile.
That’s showbiz, folks.
"You will never at any point be..., roused or touched or more than mildly entertained, for about 90 percent of the time."
Ben Brantley for NY Times
"Aims for the clouds but only occasionally gets there."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News
"Less talking, more singing, please!"
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Terrence McNally’s book follows a straight-and-narrow narrative route, leaving not much to the imagination. "
Jeremy Gerald for Bloomberg
"A busy, empty, by-the-numbers musical comedy that has to rank as the Broadway season's biggest disappointment to date."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Shiny and well-acted, but ineffectual."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Provides a darned good story, a perky score, tip-top performances and glossy visuals."
Michael Sommers for Newsroom Jersey
"There’s nonetheless much to savor in a production polished to a high sheen."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"That musical sound and the perfs from Butz and Tveit (with assists from the briefly seen Butler and Hart) offer considerable entertainment value. Sadly, though, this "Catch" of the day is not especially compelling."
Steven Suskin for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...