The original Broadway cast recording of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman’s sparkling score for Catch Me If You Can is a pip. The show, currently playing on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre to audiences that are about 90% full, is a bright, chipper and colorful romp with a touch of schmaltz thrown in from time to time.
The color isn’t evident on the CD, but the bright and chipper tone of the score certainly is. It is a very intentional throwback to an earlier sound for musical theatre. It revels in sounds that might have been the “pop” music of the day had Elvis been a flash in the pan and the Beatles never caught on.
Part of the score sounds very much like the kind of “top 40 pop” that made Hairspray so much fun. That’s not surprising, given the fact that the scores of both are by the same team. The opening number of Catch Me If You Can, “Live in Living Color,” could well be one of the television dance show numbers from Hairspray and there’s even a vaudeville-style charm song for two in Catch Me If You Can called “Butter Outa Cream” that is a match for Hairspray’s “(You’re) Timeless To Me.”
This new score takes the sound a bit forward in time, however. Not from one year or decade to the next, but from afternoon television fare such as American Bandstand-type dance shows to the evening hours. That’s when TV saw a competition between variety shows hosted by the likes of Dean Martin, Andy Williams or — heaven help us — Mitch Miller, and the detective stories with cool jazz scores like Peter Gun and Mr. Lucky.
It is the Henry Mancini-ish big band coolness that distinguishes this score from Hairspray and the use of an on-stage band playing sparkling charts by composer, Marc Shaiman, and orchestrator Larry Blank, imbues the entire production with a sense of swing which is captured nicely on the CD.
Throughout the show the songs are presented in sounds that add up to an homage to the great pop orchestrators of the time — Neil Hefti, Nelson Riddle, Claus Ogerman, Don Costa, Billy May. I think I even picked out a bit of Marion Evans at one point.
The orchestrations are the work of busy theatre orchestrator Larry Blank and this score’s composer, Marc Shaiman. Their work for the stage version was good enough to earn a Tony nomination, although the award along with all almost all the rest of the Tony’s went to The Book of Mormon. Ghostlight Records augmented the orchestra on the disc. There are twenty seven players credited in the booklet while only sixteen are listed in the program in the theater.
Augmenting the orchestra for recording an original Broadway cast album goes back to the earliest days when producers like Goddard Lieberson added players to fill out the sound in the belief that a studio recording might lack some of the energy that a live performance in the theatre can provide. Record producers Scott M. Riesett and composer Shaiman, along with executive producer Kurt Deutch, have resisted any temptation to let augmentation alter the basic sound of the orchestra and conductor John McDaniel manages to keep the augmentation from weighting down the sound while filling in where needed.
In the theater, some of the songs serve as structure for specific scenes with dialogue interspersed between verses or even between reprises. For the recording, judicious trimming results in the songs being presented as songs, which makes for enjoyable listening while retaining enough of the storytelling function to make sense within the context of the nicely detailed synopsis provided in the recording’s booklet.
This year’s Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical went to Catch Me If You Can‘s Norbert Leo Butz. This disc is ample evidence of just why. He makes the most of an unorthodox role through sheer force of will, personality and theatrical know-how. He plays the detective who tracks down the conman the title of the show is inviting him to catch. His big numbers are impressive, even when you can’t see the physical aspect of his on-stage selling of the scenes. “Don’t Break the Rules” draws a “wow!” when you listen to it for the first time just as it does in person.
Aaron Tviet is a more conventional leading man (or leading boy) as Frank Abagnale, Jr, the youthful conman (conboy?) that Leonardo DiCaprio played in the non-musical movie of 2002. (Tom Hanks had Butz’s role of the detective.) Tviet sets the tone with “Live in Living Color” and keeps it bright and energetic all the way through to his big second act number, “Good-Bye,” which presents his coming of age in an eleven o’clock number.
Tom Wopat continues to find himself in roles that don’t get him the recognition his talents and performances seem to deserve. Here he takes full advantage of his few chances to shine as the father who prompts his son to follow in his footsteps and exceed his success in his chosen field. The field, of course, is fraud. But, hey, you got to take pride in your offspring’s successes. He sells “The Pinstripes Are All That They See” so completely that you may not notice until the third or fourth time you listen that he has to sing about the uniform of World War Two GI’s as one example of “Pin Stripes” when the only stripes on those uniforms were insignia of rank. With the duet on “Butter Outa Cream,” the tender “Don’t Be A Stranger” which he shares with Rachel de Benedet and “Little Boy Be A Man” on which he manages to match Butz in pure theatrical salesmanship, Wopat’s time on stage is captured nicely on the disc.
Kerry Butler, the original shy best friend to Hairspray‘s supersized Tracy Turnblad, has a principally second act role here as the young love of the boy’s young life. Her voice is a bit whiney in person and initially on disc but when she gets to her big number, “Fly, Fly Away,” she sells it cleanly even if it does sound a bit like it belongs in another show.
Shaiman and Wittman wrote quite a few songs that didn’t make it into Terrence McNally’s final script. One that was dropped because, as good as it is as a song, it wasn’t working within the book, was the presentation by the father to the son of the “Fifty Checks” which formed the basis for his life of crime. The song, sung by Wopat, is included here as a “bonus track” and it is a gem. It brings the total time of the disc to just under 64 minutes.
The show plays without an overture which explains why there is none on the disc. But why couldn’t Ghostlight have included the brief entr’acte and the exhilarating bows and exit music that highlight the fabulous sound of the show’s band? There was plenty of space on the disc.