If you ever have to choose between catching an STD or Catch Me If You Can, you should know that in either case, you’re screwed—and in only one is there a chance of having a good time. And once you’ve caught either, you’ll just be itching for it to be over.
Yeah, it’s a little late in the game to be reviewing a show that opened in March, but I could, so I caught it.
The show wasn’t engaging enough to hate, wasn’t awful enough to love guiltily. It was just so relentlessly mediocre that I resented every second of it. On top of that, it was overly produced, presumably to compensate for the core deficiencies, which made it look all the more mediocre. All the great choreography by Jerry Mitchell, the perfectly lovely costumes by William Ivey Long, the wonderful (and Tony nominated) orchestrations by Marc Shaiman and Larry Blank, and the bigness of the lights and sets all amounted to Bedazzling a turd. The show sparkled but it stunk.
Aaron Tveit, who was so brilliant in Next to Normal, sings this leading role equally beautifully; but he lacks the charm to turn 2 hours of narration and his 14 songs (each a different flavor of vanilla) into a show. It isn’t his fault. Terrence McNally only bothered to write eleven minutes of drama. The rest is just telling. All the things that might be interesting about a young man who is wanted on 5 continents are left off the page and off the stage. The book was so lazy and heartless, it didn’t even have autonomic reflexes.
Marc Shaiman and Scott Whittman, whose book and lyrics for Hairspray were thrilling, have written some decent novelty songs but they have nothing to do with advancing the story. Sometimes they don’t even have anything to do with the story. Of course when the story is based on telling you what happened and not making anything actually happen, there isn’t much to musicalize that would advance the plot.
Norbert Leo Butz is one of my favorite musical actors, but watching his performance was like getting lice at a traffic accident—I was scratching my head but couldn’t look away. His characterization was not original. It was a bizarre combination of Jeffrey Skilling from Enron and Ruprecht from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels—cheese schtick wrapped in smarm. And he was saddled with the worst songs in the show. To be fair, the audience went crazy for him, and I am still crazy about him and can’t wait to see what he does next—please God, let it be soon.
The supporting cast is too good for what they are given to do. Kerry Butler has the most sweeping song in the show and delivers it well if occasionally weird, and I am not convinced that her pigeon-toed rag doll routine is really enough to make a man leave a life of crime. Linda Hart and Nick Wyman are underutilized but are a treat and welcomed relief. Rachelle Rak’s performance in the documentary Every Little Step proved that she’s a class act who was robbed. She is in a toss-off role here that demands better writing, and she deserves better writing. Someone, please write something better for this woman. Probably the most truthful and most powerful moment of the show belonged to Tom Wopat. He was a real person with real dreams but real torments. His disappearance into a consuming blackness, dying in the shadow of his son's success, is heartbreaking.
Jack O’Brien is keeping a lot of parts moving, but this is hardly his best work. If he could have elevated the drama with the same consistency as the props, it would have been an entirely different experience. As a matter of fact, props and people entered and exited through the floor constantly. I’ve seen fewer ups and downs in a backseat on prom night. The set design could have used more design. It was a Carol Burnett skit on steroids.
The roar of the crowd and a Tony nomination for Best Musical notwithstanding, my advice—avoid it if you can.