OnStage Calgary Critic
CALGARY, ALBERTA - I rarely leave the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre in a foul mood because the companies who share that space are so well known for producing award-winning entertainment; but this show was an incredible example of what genuine talent can produce from a volunteer-run organization.
Catch Me If You Can presented by Front Row Centre Players opened Friday March 25th 2016 to a sold out audience. This musical tells the story of Frank Abagnale Jr.and his journey as a con man, stealing millions of dollars, playing a pilot, doctor, and lawyer all before he turns 21. On the way, he lands in the path of FBI Agent Carl Hanratty who makes it his mission to catch Frank by whatever means necessary. The two take off on a cat and mouse chase around the country, creating a musical extravaganza based on the hit movie.
Before the lights even go down, we are introduced to the world of teased hair, bright colours, and short skirts thanks to the incredible makeup design by Allie Higgins-Pompu, hair design by Cat Bentley, and costume design by Sandy Forbes. I could talk for hours, breaking down each individual costume from each scene, ranting about their beauty but I’ll keep it short. These costumes are gorgeous. They complimented the girls’ figures in a classical sexy form; no one looked trashy or stood out because their costume was ill-fitting. And the boys were the epitome of bond-esque dapper style. I was so impressed by the costumes, their function in quick changes, the colours, the clean cuts on all the actors. I applaud you, Sandy.
Of course she had a fabulous cast to work with on this show. Starting with the amazing ensemble of six insanely talented females who danced their way into the hearts of every audience member after one number. It was evident from the first scene that all six of them are individually talented dancers – which admittedly became more evident when there was a mismatched hand or head out of place. Shout out to Nicole Heide for her strong flexibility and inner thigh muscles, and Lindsey Patterson for her endless levels of sass that drew my eye whenever she came on stage. Work it girls! It helped that the six male ensemble members who followed them around were equally as talented and just as sexy. Christine Mooney (choreography) got some incredible dancers to work with.
Our two leading men, Bryan Smith as Frank Abagnale Jr. and Mike Sornberger as Carl Hanratty, carried their weight in this two-and-a-half hour performance. Bryan is charming as ever, playing teenage Frank in his con man ways. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, I will tell you all you need to know: this is a very difficult role to play. It’s vocally challenging, it’s exhausting to barely leave the stage, and you have to make the audience root for a deviant criminal. Bryan Smith pulls it off, creating a persona that draws the eye of every audience member with his killer smile and devil may care attitude. My only criticism is that I didn’t believe that he was a kid with a family, and a desire for home and love. I found him lacking a vulnerability that especially showed when he belted those high notes and lost a lot of his physical and facial expression.
And then there’s Mike. I have yet to see a disappointing performance from Mike Sornberger. From his role as Frederick Frankenstein in Young Frankenstein to Willy Wonka in Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, this man is a fantastic comedic actor. He sunk so well into the role of Carl Hanratty, I laughed and clutched my heart in sympathy with every note. Although I could see him starting to lose steam throughout his big number “Don’t Break the Rules” he never lost his character or his focus. I am always in awe of this man’s physical command of every character he takes on.
Murray Melnychuk as Frank Abignale Sr. was the ideal choice for creating a compassionate, loveable, but tragic father figure for our lead character. Murray’s performance – although quiet – was heartbreaking. His stage wife, played by Judy Dunsmuir, was a perfect French femme fatale foil for Frank’s father (oh, that felt good). But in all honesty, I loved Judy’s performance, oozing charm and creating sympathy and disbelief in her wake.
The Strongs, Brenda, Roger, and Carol –played by Jenna Fraser, her father Bruce Fraser, and Jill Howell-Fellows respectively – were individually hilariously captivating and together, they were a delight to watch. I was awed by Bruce Fraser’s performance. I knew he was an incredible singer and actor but I was floored by the many roles that he took on outside of Roger Strong. He really was the everyman for this show.
Jenna Fraser is not only a phenomenal dancer but her emotional command of Brenda’s character slayed me. I got chills and was moved to tears just listening to her sing “Fly, Fly Away”. If anything, go to hear Jenna sing.
I couldn’t get through this review without mentioning the absolutely incredible band, led by musical director Danielle Wahl. They were so alive with energy and kept the show moving forward with their catchy tunes, and crazy rhythms.
Rhythms exploited by first time choreographer Christine Mooney to create visually stunning, perfectly stylized routines. I think she did a wonderful job of utilizing the space and her dancers, featuring her performers’ strengths amidst grand and energetic group numbers.
Also making his official debut is director Jeff Diodati who created the magically world we get to live in – and I didn’t want to leave it. He led the charge followed by Assistant Director Jamie Eastgaard-Ross and a team of Stage Managers, Running Crew, and other volunteers who keep the show running every night. Through every set change, misfired gun, and quick changing actor, these guys work their magic. Thank you.
I applaud the designers of this show – especially Rich Davis and James Ravenhill for their set design (functional, classy, and larger than life) – although there were a lot of lighting and sound issues that I will attribute to opening night technical difficulties and assume they’ll be fixed. This dream team created a visual delight for everyone to enjoy.
Overall, this show was stunning. I don’t know what I expected but it wasn’t this lively, charming, spectacle of a musical in all its slightly self-aware, comedic glory. I highly recommend you get your tickets now at tickets.frontrowcentre.ca
Catch Me If You Can runs from March 25th to April 9th at the Beddington Heights Community Arts Centre in NW Calgary.