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Review: S.D. Musical Theatre reopens with a swingin’ ‘60s ‘Catch Me If You Can’

Beau Brians, left, and Berto Fernandez in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Catch Me If You Can."
(Ken Jacques)

The company has moved to a new home theater in Kearny Mesa for its 2022 season

After a long pandemic break, San Diego Musical Theatre reopened on Saturday with a production of “Catch Me If You Can” at a new theatrical space in Kearny Mesa.

While the new black box space inside a warehouse on Mercury Street is smaller than the theaters where SDMT formerly produced, there’s nothing small about this show which has a huge cast, a big sound and overflowing chemistry between its two lead actors.

Beau Brians, who plays teenage con man Frank Abagnale Jr., and Berto Fernández, as Carl Hanratty, the FBI agent on Frank’s tail, go from hated adversaries to a father-and-son dynamic that brings the show to a heartwarming conclusion. Crime doesn’t pay in “Catch Me If You Can,” but thanks to Brians and Fernández, it does foster an authentic relationship between the two lonely characters they play.

Beau Brians leads a dance in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Catch Me If You Can."
Beau Brians leads a dance ensemble in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “Catch Me If You Can.”
(Ken Jacques)

Based on the 2002 movie of the same name, the 2011 musical tells the highly fictionalized life story of Abagnale, a real-life criminal who ended up consulting for the FBI after his release from prison in the 1970s. With a score by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman and book by Terrence McNally, the musical celebrates the music, fashions, décor and swinging lifestyles of the ‘60s.

Allison Spratt Pearce makes her impressive professional directing debut here, alongside choreographer Xavier J. Bush and SDMT’s new musical director Richard Dueñez Morrison. Because there’s far more singing than dialogue in “Catch Me” and the high-stepping choreography is interwoven into the spoken and sung scenes, this trio does a wonderful job collaborating on a seamless well-sung and -danced production.

The musical’s book is male-heavy with only three secondary female characters. Spratt Pearce has beefed up these roles and added a female FBI agent, but there’s not much she can do with the sexed-up chorus girl dance numbers. These stewardesses and nurses represent the free love era of the 1960s, but the scanty costumes and choreography definitely feel dated.

Brians capably pulls off the role of the bright, charming but directionless Frank Jr. who seems to commit crimes simply because he’s good at it. He’s also got a powerhouse singing voice. Fernández, who towers over Brians, is a consummate pro with strong comedic skills and vocal heft that he puts to work in “Don’t Break the Rules,” the breakneck-speed song and dance that won Norbert Leo Butz a Tony Award.

Also a standout is Paul Morgavo who gives a multidimensional performance as Frank’s morally compromised dad, Frank Sr. Andrea Petsinger is sympathetic as Frank’s distant mother, Paula. And Adelaida Martínez brings an honest simplicity to the role of Frank’s girlfriend, Brenda. Filling out the principal roles in the 24-member cast are Debra Wanger, Ted Leib, Joey Guerra, Sutheshna Mani and Dennis Peters.

Paul Morgavo and Andrea Petsinger in San Diego Musical Theatre's "Catch Me If You Can."
(Ken Jacques)

Instead of a live orchestra, “Catch Me” has a recorded score, which is well orchestrated and doesn’t sound canned. But there were feedback issues during a Sunday matinee, and some of the singers shouted their songs, which was overwhelming in such a small space.

The nice, new tiered-seating space at SDMT Stage has great sightlines for the audience and Mathys Herbert’s scenic design onstage has a clean 1960s mod design. Janet Pitcher designed the costumes, Michelle Miles designed lighting and Paul Durso designed sound.

‘Catch Me If You Can’

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays. Through March 13.

Where: San Diego Musical Theatre at 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.


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