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San Diego Musical Theatre relaunches with reimagined ‘Catch Me If You Can’

Beau Brians and Berto Fernandez co-star in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Catch Me If You Can."
(Julie Licari)

The cat-and-mouse musical is about a wily con man and the FBI agent on his tail

When Allison Spratt Pearce was first offered the opportunity to direct “Catch Me If You Can” for San Diego Musical Theatre, she wasn’t initially sure the show was the right vehicle for her professional directing debut.

The 2011 musical — based on a 1980 book and 2002 film starring Leonard DiCaprio and Tom Hanks — was most memorable for its chorus line of leggy showgirls and breathless press reports that the show was “bringing sexy back” to Broadway. But Spratt Pearce took a deeper look at the story and characters, and with the help of choreographer Xavier J. Bush and music director Richard Dueñez Morrison, she has crafted a “Catch Me if You Can” that’s more in step with today’s times.

The musical opens tonight at San Diego Musical Theatre’s new temporary home theater, SDMT Stage, a black-box space in a Kearny Mesa warehouse owned by SDMT co-founders Erin and Gary Lewis. The Lewises had originally planned to produce “Catch Me If You Can” in 2020, but the pandemic forced a two-year delay. When the show came around again, SDMT artistic director Jill Townsend told Spratt Pearce that she wanted the show to be produced in a more enlightened and diversity-minded way.

“I wanted to tell a slightly different story that wasn’t based on legs and gorgeous girls,” Spratt Pearce said.

Richard Dueñez Morrison, Allison Spratt Pearce and Xavier J. Bush
Richard Dueñez Morrison, Allison Spratt Pearce and Xavier J. Bush are the creative team for San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Catch Me If You Can.”
(Mark Anthony Holmes)

“Catch Me If You Can” tells the mostly real-life story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a teenage con artist who — according to his semiautobiographical 1980 book of the same name — wrote millions of dollars of bad checks and impersonated an airline pilot, attorney, doctor and more during a four-year crime spree in the mid-1960s. He was finally brought down by an FBI agent and turned his life around. The film and musical dramatizes the father-son relationship that develops between Frank and the fictional FBI agent, Carl Hanratty.

Spratt Pearce said she hasn’t changed a word of the script, but she has reimagined several elements of the story, in particular giving the story’s few female characters more depth. She has also turned one of show’s three male FBI agents into a female role, played by Suthe Mani, an actress of Indian descent.

Spratt Pearce also has worked closely with Bush to seamlessly integrate the choreography with the dialogue, since the songs by Mark Shaiman and Scott Wittman help advance librettist Terrence McNally’s plot. Because the show is so ambitious, Spratt Pearce said she and Bush started planning out scenes together more than four months ago over Zoom.

The show will feature a cast of 24 actors led by Beau Brians as Frank and Berto Fernández as agent Hanratty. Because this is SDMT’s first non-Equity musical and there will be no live orchestra, rehearsal time with the actors has been expanded and Spratt Pearce said this has allowed her to work much longer with the two leads to develop their roles.

“Berto and Beau are fantastic, hard-working men who love to collaborate and they’re extremely open to new ideas,” she said. “Beau is this great balance between the innocence of a kid and the showmanship of a con man. Berto is this 6-foot-4 man who plays this great balance between blue-collar workaholic detective and nurturing empath. These actors have dug deep to find a new way into the truth of these characters and not just play a caricature of them.”

‘Catch Me If You Can’

When: Opens tonight and runs through March 13. Showtimes, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury St., San Diego

Tickets: $40-$75

Phone: (858) 560-5740

Online: sdmt.org

COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination or proof of negative test result from COVID-19 PCR test within 48 hours of showtime. Masks required for all indoors.

Berto Fernandez plays FBI agent Carl Hanratty in S.D. Musical Theatre's "Catch Me If You Can."
(Julie Licari)


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