Frank Abagnale jnr was an airline pilot, a lawyer, a surgeon, and a millionaire – all before he turned 21. How he did it is the subject of the Broadway musical Catch Me If You Can, which will have its Canberra premiere in May.
The show, produced by Dramatic Productions, had its launch at the Jet Flight Simulator in Fyshwick on Tuesday.
Scripted by Terence McNally with songs by Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, it's based on a true story. Abagnale, played by Alexander Clubb, ran away from home at the age of 16 in the mid-1960s, when his parents' marriage broke up.
Clubb said: "He had to get away and make it work."
Relying on his wits, his charm and his talent for forgery, Abagnale was able to take advantage of people and situations and keep ahead of the law – especially FBI agent Carl Hanratty (Gerard Ninnes), who doggedly pursued him as his false identities and bad cheques kept piling up.
Clubb said the musical was a more lighthearted take on the story than the darker-toned movie adaptation of Abagnale's autobiography – starring Leonardo DiCaprio – with plenty of upbeat songs as it moved from one incredible exploit to the next.
One of the secrets to Abagnale's continued "professional" success, Clubb said, was that he avoided getting into situations where he had to do anything that would give him away: while pretending to be a pilot, for example, he never actually flew a plane, but was always a co-pilot or "dead-headed" as a passenger.
The 25-year-old actor said musical theatre was his passion, and he was looking forward to taking his first lead role after three years performing in shows in Canberra including Into the Woods, La Cage Aux Folles and The Witches of Eastwick.
Ninnes has had a lead role, playing Henry Higgins in Queanbeyan Players' My Fair Lady, among many other roles for that company. In Catch Me If You Can he is playing another bachelor, but a very different man.
"He's married to the job and there are hints of failed relationships," he said.
When the agent first gets on Abagnale's trail, he thinks he is dealing with a veteran con man and is shocked to discover he is dealing with a teenager.
"He develops a soft spot for Frank," Ninnes said.
While not shirking his duty, the agent ends up respecting the young man's misdirected talents, and there is almost a paternal bond that develops between them.
Block said his company was the second in Australia to produce Catch Me If You Can, and he looked forward to bringing the high-energy, fun show to Canberra.
Catch Me If You Can is on at Gungahlin Theatre from May 27 to June 11. Bookings: stagecenta.com.
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