This was originally intended to be a review of Catch Me If You Can, but since the show is over, it’s going to be a commentary and reflection on a show that somehow managed to capture my heart. Catch Me If You Can isn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but it has its own sort of magic. I saw it four times before it closed, and each was a very different experience.
The first time I saw the show was three days after the Tony Awards, and while the energy in the audience was amazing, my enjoyment was also coloured by the fact that it was my first theatrical experience in more than half a decade. I’ve never been a fan of big, showy performances, but this one had just enough depth to hold my attention. And the showy numbers worked in the context of the musical, since it is meant to be Frank Abagnale Jr’s “show.” At that performance, the only song I knew was “Don’t Break the Rules,” because it had been performed at the Tony Awards. It’s unusual for me to not have any knowledge of a show prior to seeing it, but it definitely made this one a lot more fun. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed experiencing a performance for the first time. And the most shocking part? My reaction after it was over: I’d see that again. I NEVER want to immediately see a show a second time. There’s always so much more out there to see. This one, though, I was quite happy to have a repeat viewing of.
So then came the second time. The plan for that day was a bit different, since I was planning on seeing the Catch Me If You Can matinee and the evening performance of Follies in the same day. Because the shows are so different, I wasn’t sure how seeing both in one day would affect my enjoyment. As it turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Our seats for Catch Me If You Can were further back, but also closer to centre stage than the first time, which changed the whole perspective. And if I thought that the first time was good, the second was absolutely spectacular. Because I had seen the show previously, this time I was able to focus on points other than the plot. Things like the dancers, the orchestra, the dancers, the costumes, and oh yeah, the dancers. I may have spent a disturbingly significant amount of time watching the dancers… who were phenomenal. And have legs that go on for miles… Sorry, slightly distracted by memories. Where was I? Oh yes, being able to pay attention to non-plot related moments. Right, dancers.
On to show number three. This time, I was seeing it with one person who had also seen it previously, and two people who were seeing it for the first time. It made for an intriguing mix. Our seats were in roughly the same area as the second time I’d seen the show, just a few rows forward, still just off centre. And this time I found myself paying attention to the technical side of the performance. Not in a way that was distracting from my enjoyment, but rather in a way that made me feel nostalgic for the days when I dreamed of working on a Broadway show. I found myself wondering where exactly the stage manager was sitting, what the backstage looked like, how the crew stored set pieces, etc. It was actually quite refreshing to watch a show from the perspective of both someone who had seen it before and someone who had once worked in technical theatre. Yes, maybe I picked up some moments that the average audience member wouldn’t have seen, but for me, it added to the experience. And getting to watch with friends who hadn’t seen it before didn’t hurt either.
The fourth and final time that I saw Catch Me If You Can was the closing performance. And that took a little bit of finagling. I didn’t really have the money to see it again, but the idea of seeing that final show had gotten lodged in my mind and I refused to give up on it. Solution: ask my mother for a ticket to it for my birthday (which was only a few days later). Although she initially didn’t want to, after a discussion involving, “You asked me what I wanted, I’m telling you,” I had my ticket.
I’d never been to a closing performance before, aside from shows I’ve worked on, so I only had a vague idea of what to expect. I was so wrong. I’d expected energy, but this was an already electrified audience that was then supercharged. From the moment the opening announcement began, it seemed that everyone sat just a little more forward. Places where I’ve never heard applause had the audience clapping. And the moments that have always had cheering, well, you can imagine. And I, who has first-hand experience in seeing what audience energy can do to a cast and crew, got to watch the show pick up that energy and start to feed it right back. It’s almost impossible for a cast to not savour every moment of a final performance, but it was truly amazing to actually watch it happen.
My favourite moments haven’t really changed from the first time I saw the show to the last. I love the look on Aaron Tveit’s face in the very first number, when he says, “A show!” and the music starts to play. Norbert Leo Butz’s energy in “Don’t Break the Rules” is contagious, and has the ability to make me feel exhausted even though I haven’t moved. “The Man Inside the Clues” gives me goosebumps every time, and “Christmas is My Favorite Time of Year” simultaneously makes me laugh and hurt. Kerry Butler’s “Fly Fly Away” is stunning, but the song that holds my heart is “Goodbye.” It’s the first song I heard from the show and my primary reason for seeing it the first time. And though I normally find it powerful and inspiring, I knew this time was going to be different. The song is about the end of Frank Abagnale Jr’s performance, leaving the roles he played as a con artist behind and moving forward as himself. Sound like acting to anyone else? It is a song that is just as descriptive of the end of a theatrical show as of a personal one.
It took two notes for me to start crying. And as anyone who knows me can attest, I don’t cry. “Goodbye,” which is so powerful to begin with, was raised to a level beyond anything I’ve ever experienced. During the song, there is a line, “I’ll walk into the sunset, I’ll sail across the sea, the final word, the last you’ll hear of me, of me, is goodbye!” and the sets clear, the lights go white, and Aaron Tveit is left singing what has essentially become the closing anthem of the show. And my heart completely broke. The song kept going, but all I could do was feel. The standing ovation at the conclusion of the song was almost inevitable. I’d normally complain loudly about that type of interruption to a performance, but at that moment, it wasn’t inappropriate. It was recognition, not only of the person performing, but of the show itself. And for me, having the opportunity to be in that audience and experience that number on that day, and hear it live one final time helped to alleviate the sadness I had felt about the show closing.
Up until that day, I still hadn’t figured out quite what it was about Catch Me If You Can that me connect with it as intensely as I did. On the train ride into New York City, I’d pondered the thought on twitter. And a friend who had been with me the third time I saw the show gave me the perfect answer. “Cause it’s happy and joyful and has a happy ending about unexpected possibilities…”
Sometimes, maybe once in a lifetime if you’re lucky, you find exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. It may be a book, a song, a person, a sunrise, anything at all, but it changes everything. For me, it was a big, showy musical that never quite reached it’s full potential. But it gave me back a part of myself that I hadn’t realised was missing. It truly and completely changed my life, and for that, I will be forever grateful that I was able to experience it.