Reporting Sara Pelissero
A teenage runaway, in search of a new, glamorous life, successfully poses as a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, cashes millions of dollars in forged checks and dodges the FBI — all before being able to legally buy a beer. Still, the strangest part of this story? It’s true.
The incredible tale of one Frank Abagnale, Jr. is truly too crazy to believe. From becoming a world-class con man starting at age 16 to becoming a consultant for the FBI, the man’s life story is better than most fictional novels. Now, he spends his days helping the FBI spot fraud and con artists, using his inside knowledge.
In 2002, “Catch Me If You Can” hit the silver screen, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a young, fresh faced Abagnale, Jr. The movie was an instant hit and it was only a matter of time before someone took the show on stage.
In 2011, “Catch Me If You Can, The Musical” debuted on Broadway and has been touring the country ever since. The show stops in Minneapolis on Tuesday but before we saddle up for the ride of a lifetime, we wanted to check in with the show’s star to see what tricks he has up his sleeve. Here’s our interview with Stephen Anthony, who plays Frank Abagnale, Jr.
Tell us a little about the show.
It’s the true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con man, who ran away from home when he was 16 in search of love and a glamorous life, good times and really, just in search of adventure. He just gets into a whole bunch of trouble along the way and somehow it all works out until it catches up with him. In the end, it turns into this story of owning up to your actions and family — and having to decide what’s really important to you. So it becomes a really great life lesson at the end.
As far as comparing it to the movie, it really holds true to the story, it really honors the true story of Frank Abagnale, but I think it’s more fun for an audience. I mean, I think the movie’s incredible – I watched the movie an infinite amount as part of my research. But I think getting to see it live, the audience has no choice but to identify a little more with the con man and the audience gets to see, they’re one step ahead, almost like they’re helping me plot it. They’re apart of all my mischief. And they get to have all the good times, they get to live the glamorous life with me and I think they have a really great time.
The music is all new for the musical, too – what can you tell us about it?
Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote the music, the same writers of Hairspray and the TV show Smash. And they did just an incredible job. The band is on stage with us through the whole show and I can’t imagine it any other way because it’s just so tied to the way we’re telling the story, which is this exciting, 60s, hullabaloo-type spectacular and the music is like that. The music is exciting and fun. Big brass band. There’s pop music, rock’n roll, R&B, a little swing influence in there and at the same time, it’s so fun and the audience is tapping their feet along to it, there’s also this rich, emotional music in it. When my love interest in the show, Brenda, sings her song, “Fly, Fly Away,” everybody backstage crowds around and listens because it’s such a beautiful song and such an emotional power ballad. There’s a few of those in the show, a few big, belty, exciting numbers.
You mentioned watching the movie several times while doing your research, how much did you take from Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of Frank and how much did you make the character your own?
Well, I mean, I think his work in the show, in the movie, is so phenomenal so I wanted to honor that, but it was more important to me to honor what I felt about the true story – I took more from the book that Frank Abagnale, himself, wrote. And then at a certain point, it’s an actor’s challenged to take everything you’ve learned and completely forget about it and point it on your own body. I think the only way that I differ is, I think I bring a little more mischief to it. A little more of the sneaky kid who thinks he’s getting away with it. But of course, Leonardo DiCaprio, what shoes to fill – and Aaron Tveit, who played the role on Broadway – both did such an amazing job. I think it’s a balance of bringing my own personality and my own fun to it and you know, borrowing the energy that I really loved from both of them.
When you were doing your research, since this is a true story, what surprised you the most about Frank Abagnale, Jr.?
I think the coolest thing to learn for me, no. 1 is the person he is today. He’s still serving the country and traveling and doing talks about preventing fraud and protecting your country from things like that. He still feels so bad about what he did, so he’s got this strong sense of morality, despite everything that he did. And then, sort of going back in time and going along with that, he wasn’t a criminal mastermind. He didn’t think of himself as this mastermind, he was just a kid and everything sort of fell into place. So as opposed to playing a methodical genius, I get to play this sense of wonderment that it all happened and I get to share with the audience my own wonderment over how it happened, how everything fell into place. When I suddenly get the idea to pretend to be a pilot, I think the audience gets the idea right before I get it – almost with me. That surprises me the most is that, I don’t have to work too hard at most of it – it’s all just fun. In my research, I was looking up how to make licenses and how to do all this counterfeit but in reality, it all just fell into place and that’s been really fun for me to play with. Once I get away with it on stage, I realize, I’m really good at it and then it’s just a matter of playing and keeping the fun alive.
I hear the real Frank Abagnale, Jr. pops up every now and then to watch the show and speak to the audience, have you had the chance to meet him? What was that like?
Of course I have, which has been incredible. What better inspiration and motivation to tell this incredible story than having the man there himself. And he loves the show. He’s said great things about it afterwards.
So before we let you go, what’s one last pitch you would give to audiences to come out and see this show?
I mean, they’re just going to have a great time. I think it’s a story that audiences want to live out themselves – it’s everybody’s dream I think, to live without responsibility and go out and have an adventure. And you get to do that in this show and have a great time doing it. I think people are surprised by how much they’re moved by it at the end of the show and they’re surprised when the end of the show brings them to tears because they’ve just been laughing and having a great time for two hours. I think it’s really surprising to people that it’s so moving at the end.
“Catch Me If You Can” start Tuesday, Dec. 11 and runs through Dec. 16. Tickets are between $34 and $79 and are on sale now. The show is two hours and 30 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission. For more information, click here.