Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 30, 2013

Animal Crackers

Williamstown Theatre Festival, Williamstown, MA
through July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

For those familiar with the loony non-stop humor of the Marx Brothers, “Animal Crackers” is the consummate impetus to reminisce. For those who have never seen this crazy trio on celluloid, be prepared to thoroughly enjoy the wackiness of the actors portraying Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.

At its core, “Animal Crackers” is a dressed-up outlet for the brothers to perform their one-liner shtick, fast banter, risqué jokes, and pratfalls. Wrapped around this Borsht Beltish repartee is a flimsy and funny script that balances perfectly with these shenanigans. In what, on the surface, looks and feels a slightly unrehearsed, sometimes ad-libbed free-for-all, is a well-crafted production with room for anything. For example, while there is no rubber chicken, a rubber duck suffices.

Humor is what propels the play at its speedy pace, but there is far more to “Animal Crackers.” With music by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, melodies like “Why Am I So Romantic” and those with ridiculously funny lyrics like “Keep Your Undershirt On,” abound. Of course, musicals require dance, and lots of it. “Three Little Words” highlights a spectacular dance duo quick at tap, soft shoe, jazz step, and Charleston. “Long Island Low Down” features the entire cast in a lively romp.

The double proscenium arch creates a stage within a stage. In the center of the art deco-styled set is a seven-piece band in full tux, two large staircases, and giant cardboard chandelier. The band is terrific and plays an essential and unexpected part of the show, as do the stagehands, and some audience members. Costumes are elegant and hairdos are 1920’s.

While certainly a format for Marx Bros antics (kudos to the three actors who look, walk, and talk – well, Harpo doesn’t talk – exactly like the originals), “Crackers” is truly an ensemble production. Director/Adaptor Henry Wishcampter’s choice to cast each actor in double roles is curious. Although, all the more reason for recognizing and praising the troupe. Rarely is separate playbill credit given to Director of Physical Comedy, except in this case, as Paul Kalina must have worked his actors into a full play’s-worth of safe chaos.

“Animal Crackers” is goofy fun. Enjoy it.

The Sunset Limited

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through July 6, 2013
by K.J. Rogowski

“The Sunset Limited” roars through the New Century Theatre with a compelling head of steam and a cargo of provocative questions, arguments, and passions.

Cormac McCarthy’s skillfully designed plot and characters, along with two actors who understand and deliver his contrasting messages make the evening. The playwright has crafted a trap, symbolically locking tthe duo in a room, struggling to discover why they are there. They, like their names and races: Black and White, set the tone. For these two men, that is the way they live their lives, each believing in their unique creed, unyielding, and engaged in a series intense debates of age old questions on the value of life, commitment to your fellow man, and what, if anything, there is after all this.

For one man, the answer is a drive to help those in need, living where the down trodden and social misfits dwell; and for the other, to simply end the suffering which he sees his life has become because of the ultimate futility of all man’s undertakings. For one it has been a life of crime, prison, and murder; and for the other, a life of privilege, education, and insights; but for both, lives that have brought them to have done things neither can dare to reveal.

The set, designed by Shawn Hill and Amy Putnam, captures the power of McCarthy’s plot, for as the show opens, the sound of "The Sunset Limited" bellows, lights pulsate, and the set rolls headlong towards the audience, screeching to a halt at the stage’s edge. And just like the two locked in the room on stage, the audience instantly knows that the Limited is headed dead on for them, just as McCarthy intends. This is a trip well worth taking.

Arms On Fire

Chester Theatre, Chester, MA
through July 7, 2013
by Walter Haggerty

"A play with music" pinpoints the emphasis precisely where it should be for "Arms On Fire," a revelatory play -- part memory, part contemporary reality. However the importance of the music should not be deemphasized, as it contributes importantly in mood and lyrics that comment on the action and underscore past events. There are moments that evoke memories of the musical "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and the film "Midnight Cowboy," but these are merely brushstrokes on a much broader canvas. Overall, "Arms On Fire" is given an outstanding production by the Chester Theatre Company.

The story focuses on Ulysses, a factory worker, originally from Honduras, now living in a basement apartment in New York's Hell's Kitchen. An unanticipated intrusion comes as Smith, a young singer hoping for a career break, arrives on the scene and soon probes and prods Ulysses until he learns the story of Ulysses' lost love. In the process, Smith manages to inject himself into Ulysses life -- and his apartment.

The influence of Josephina, Ulysses former lover, has a lasting affect on both men. Natalie Mendoza, ideally cast in this role, offers a seductive portrayal, much of which must be delivered from behind a scrim. Guieseppe Jones' gently modulated and restrained performance gives Ulysses the persona of a passionate but patient man who has accepted what life has handed him, but also reveals how much he has to give back.

It is James Barry, as Smith, who has the showiest role of the evening with wide-ranging mood swings, colorful language, and opportunities for excessive behavior. His characterization could easily stray out of control, but thanks to Barry's always controlled, brilliantly honed performance that never happens. It is a consummate gem of acting an "over-the-top" character without the actor ever following suit. Barry and director Byam Stevens must share well-deserved honors for this.

The set design by Travis A. George creates an ideal, flexible backdrop for the action. Musical accompaniment from an exceptionally talented group of four musicians on six instruments was excellent. "Arms On Fire" is a great opener for the Chester Theatre Group's 2013 season.

June 26, 2013

Capitol Steps

Cranwell Resort, Lenox, MA
July 5, 2012 - September 1, 2013

Capitol Steps, once again, thankfully steps onto the stage at Cranwell. You don't have to go to D.C. to see the real politicians, just travel to Lenox to laugh at their clones in action. The Capitol Steps' members pan current news in a Jon Stewart-like manner yet to song and dance. The costumes and props are pathetically and purposely cheesy in the numerous and fast skits. Each year, the script changes just as the news changes, oftentimes daily.

CS performs six days a week. Check their website or call 413-881-1636 for details.

CT Goes Country

Summerwind, Windsor, CT
June 23, 2013
by Eric Sutter

The Summerwind Performing Arts Center hosted two up-and-coming female country music artists backed by Connecticut's own Monthei Brothers. The twin brothers have played country music in CT since the 70's. Their five-piece band began the night with an Eagles' classic "Take It Easy." On this beautiful cool moonlit night, the boys played bluegrass and the rock hit "Memphis" by Chuck Berry. They proved what 40 years of experience is worth. John Monthei's flashy fiddle style colored "Orange Blossom Special."

The 20 year old Marla Morris from Bethany, CT rocked her country sound from the opener title cut of her CD, "Ready For The Rain," to the closer, "Take Me Home." She shared songs of lost love, friendship and growth. Morris' songs "Last Dance" and "Let You Go" were interspersed with rock hits "Long Train Runnin'" and "Walking In Memphis." Listen for more from this talented young singer.

Nicole Freshette, from Madison, is another young powerhouse country singer who showcased her amazing dual natured voice that rocked and soothed. Her charismatic presence propelled new songs from her latest CD "Blonde Ambition." "Bird On A Wire" had a Miranda Lambert influence. In fact, later in the set she performed Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart." Freshette's confident vocals belted out "He Wants Me" with gusto. The Phil Vassar penned pop-hook hit "Yeah Right," from Freshette's debut CD, featured a captivating chorus and smooth pedal steel guitar solo by John Monthei. The country ballad "Old Dirt Road" gave the singer the opportunity to show off her lovely voice in a tender song, with acoustic guitar as backdrop.

"Heartbreak Overdrive" added riveting rockin' country with hot electric guitar leads of the wild abandonment variety. Freshette shifted to a bluesy singing style for a soulful take of Tracey Chapman's "Give Me One Reason." She closed with the bristly Dixie Chicks' country-rocker "Let Er' Rip." This girl is going places... as is Summerwind. The venue features a fine array of talent this summer.

June 24, 2013

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Jacob’s Pillow Dance, Becket, MA
through June 23, 2013
by Amy Meek

Jacob’s Pillow has begun another season filled with diverse, thought-provoking dance companies and works.  Dance Theatre of Harlem was the first to grace the Ted Shawn Theatre for the summer.  This historical ballet company gave a varied performance showcasing a real blend of styles.  The weekend’s performances also kicked off the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival, a collaboration between various community venues celebrating African-American heritage and culture.

The first work, Agon, showcased the neoclassical ballet style made famous by George Balanchine.  This difficult piece was a combination of solos, duets, trios, and quartets which interplayed with the music, creating many classical shapes in a flurry of activity.   This ensemble displayed a distinctive muscular energy, which is not always seen in some traditional Balanchine dancers.  The music by Igor Stravinsky highlighted the complexity and sensuality of the choreography.

The Black Swan Pas de Deux was the second piece in the program.  This section from the ballet Swan Lake is always a treat to watch because of the exciting feats of technique from the male and female dancer.  Michaela Deprince and Samuel Wilson were spot-on with their execution of the steps.  Deprince finished the thirty-two fouettes, which characterize the Black Swan’s solo, with ease.  They also displayed artistry as well as excellent technique.

The last two pieces, The Lark Ascending, choreographed by the famous Alvin Ailey, and Return, a work set to music by James Brown and Aretha Franklin, further exemplified the range of the company’s repertoire.  The first of these was filled with beautiful movements, costumes and music, whereas the second piece was sassy and and humorous.  The Dance Theatre of Harlem gave a wonderful performance and started out the Jacob’s Pillow season with a bang!

June 21, 2013

On The Town

Barrington Stage, Pittsfield, MA
through July 13, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Barrington Stage Company opens each of its summer seasons with a crowd-pleasing musical. “On the Town” continues to fit this format, not solely because it does and will attract audiences – some obvious reasons being that the names of Bernstein, Comden, and Green are attached to it; Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra starred in the movie version; and the setting is the Big Apple – but because BSC mounts top-notch quality productions.

Delightful and joyous, funny and frothy are perfect adjectives for “On the Town.” The plot is simple. It’s the 1940’s, take three young sailors off the boat, land them in NYC, and give them 24-hours for each to find a gal. It is certainly no spoiler to write “mission accomplished.” After all, this is a comedy.

Except for “New York, New York” (not the Liza Minelli NY) most of the tunes will not ring a proverbial bell. That’s okay, just enjoy them. Many are silly (“Caveman Dance” and “I Can Cook”) and a few lean toward serious (“Some Other Time” and “Lonely Town”). While the sailors make for a splendid vocal trio, it is their dancing that unites them and with the audience. When the hoofer ensemble joins them in frequent numbers, “On the Town” becomes a town not to be missed.

With emphasis on dance, one might not expect the excellent quality of each lead as a singer. The men – Clyde Alves, Jay Armstrong Johnson, and Tony Yazbeck – also croon solos, with Yazbeck shining as a fine dancer as well. Two of their ladies sing –Elizabeth Stanley and Alysha Umphress – and Deanna Doyle stands on her head, performs other gymnast feats, and dances. Simply by opening her mouth to talk, Umphress commands the stage. Actually, she doesn’t even need to talk, since her body language shouts out loud. Here is a great young comedic talent.

The direction logically and seamlessly fills every moment of every scene, the choreography feels natural, the pit band of 10 sounds like 20, the costumes and hairdos replicate the era, and the staging offers simplicity. It’s far more important in this musical to make room for a smooth soft-shoe or ballet than the furniture.

Pittsfield is a perfect town for “On the Town.”

June 19, 2013

Billy Elliot, The Musical

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through June 23, 2013
by Shera Cohen

Noah Parets IS Billy Elliot. Noah Parets makes “Billy Elliot” a character-centered, poignant, humorous, and strong musical. While “Billy” boasts a large cast of perhaps 40 singers, dancers, and actors, this impish spitfire 13-year-old steals the show. But, then, that’s his job, and Parets takes command in a boyish manner that never steals scenes from others. The bottom line – this boy is an exemplary talent with a remarkable future in dance.

The backdrop is a piece of British history during the coalminers strike in the mid-1980’s when poor towns people vs. police and community vs. government. This is a bit of a political drama, with the audience leaning toward the plight of the coalminers. More so, it is a drama of circumstances with one family at the crux, particularly one young boy. The musical closely resembles the movie version. The plot is the unexpected dream of Billy to become a ballet dancer – certainly not the career his widowed dad picks for him. Then there’s the ever-present assumption that a boy who dances is a sissy. “Not my son.”

Billy dances up a storm throughout the two-hour musical. While the Elton John music is oftentimes lovely (“Dear Billy”) or funny (“We’d Go Dancing”) or haunting (“Once We Were Kings”), it’s the music that thrusts Billy into non-stop action that makes this an excellent production with a long life. Billy proves his stuff to the judges and to his dad in “Electricity.” The end of Act I’s “Angry Dance” pushes and shoves Billy in the midst of the political factions. As the dance’s title indicates, this boy is angry, the world is angry, and Billy is angry at the world. Powerful stuff with lots of percussion from the excellent pit band. However, Billy’s ballet, accompanied by his older self to “Swan Lake” is one (there are several) of the showstoppers.

Special kudos should be handed out in various categories: a charming Cameron Clifford as Billy’s cross-dressing little buddy, the lighting designer who creates giant shadows for Billy to dance with, a cast of little girls who fake bad dancing very well, and to Tony Award-winning choreographer Peter Darling. Billy’s moves combine boyish awkwardness with mature skill – a contrast at best that works superbly.

June 18, 2013

The Art of the Chalumeau

Daniel Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA
June 16, 2013
by Barbara Stroup

After a cold winter and a wet spring, Aston Magna returned to the Berkshires with the best in chamber music - the pleasing combination of strings, winds and voice. Offering a rare glimpse at an obscure instrument, the ensemble provided guest artist Eric Hoeprich with respectful support in both programming and musicianship. In Hoeprich’s hands, the chalemeau is an instrument that can enter mysteriously from the background texture, rivaling the voice in its soul-touching sound. The range of this small instrument belies its size, and the artist achieved a balanced timbre throughout. Paired with the oboe in a short work by Johann Adolph Hasse, the combination was ethereal. One wishes again that, like other neglected early instruments, audiences could hear much more from chalemeau players.

The program opened without the wind instruments with a Vivaldi work in three parts. Artistic Director Daniel Stepner’s leadership, particularly at the cadenzas, gave the notes a chance to linger in the air and gave the audience a change to savor them. It was a pleasure to be able to follow Vivaldi’s fugal theme, as players took turns getting “out of the way” so it could be highlighted.

The evening’s ensemble included a continuo section of three: violone, baroque cello, and theorbo. The group was a perfect combination throughout the varied program of arias, concerti, and other short works and the balance throughout was impeccably maintained, regardless of the number of voices.

Soprano Kristen Watson joined the instrumentalists for several pieces from Handel and Vivaldi, and for the closing Cantata by Francesco Conti. Her instrument excellently matched the ensemble. She seemed to particularly enjoy the opportunities to ‘converse’ with the chalemeau when Hoeprich and she were paired.

Baroque oboeist Steven Hammer brought a masterful technique to the familiar Marcello Concerto, ending the first half of the program with rapid passage-work and flying fingers. All three featured artists had so much command of technique that they could put the audience at ease with their musicianship. The program was a delightful mix and it is hoped that a recording might be issued, because the term “chalemeau” on iTunes results in only ONE find.

June 17, 2013

Lend Me A Tenor

New Century Theatre, Northampton, MA
through June 22, 2013
by Eric Johnson

Nothing says “let the summer theatre season begin” better than a good farce, set on a stage with six, count ‘em six, yes that’s right six, functioning doors beckoning to be flung open and slammed. Mistaken identities, characters in various stages of undress, compromising positions, and incidents of borderline insanity now have a perfect setting for the madness to begin. Add to this, a group of seasoned and talented actors and the stage is set for an evening of pure entertainment and lots of laughter.

The wonderfully detailed set design by Dan Rist immediately lets the observer know that it is a hotel suite, circa 1930s, complete with art deco designs on the doors.

Performances by the extremely talented cast, under the direction of Jack Neary, elicited almost non-stop laughter from the opening night audience, which is as it should be. This is a top-notch production of a very funny show.

Steve Brady and Brian Argotsinger, as Saunders and Max, have great chemistry and timing in the numerous scenes involving only this duo, almost channeling Abbott and Costello at one point in a hysterical rapid fire dialog sequence. Sandra Blaney, always a joy to see on stage, plays a marvelous mixture of innocence and wantonness as Maggie.

Tito and Maria are brilliantly portrayed by Sam Samuels and Lisa Abend. They step onto the stage with intensity and energy as a bickering couple, with an emphasis on heavy Italian accented English. Margaret Streeter, as Diana, is alluring and sexy, especially when she appears wrapped in a bath towel. The Bellhop, enthusiastically played by James Emery, is a great character and Emery knows it, bringing full commitment to his character’s mission to meet Tito. Julie Robbins also does a splendid job of bringing the supporting role of Julia to the forefront whenever she is on stage.    

“Lend Me a Tenor” is a fast paced, laugh out loud production well worth seeing. So, let the summer theatre season begin!

June 5, 2013

Unexpected Sounds: Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring

Hartford Symphony, Hartford, CT
May 30 – June 2, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

HSO Music Director Carolyn Kuan jokingly introduced the first piece on her season finale program as likely to make some audience members "want to riot" against the "unexpected sounds" it produces, just as the audience at the world premiere of Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" rioted a century ago this week in Paris.

Wu Wei
That piece was selections from "The Color Yellow" Concerto for Sheng and Chamber Orchestra by 37-year-old Chinese born composer Huang Ruo. The sheng is a mouth-blown traditional Chinese reed instrument with a series of vertical pipes. Chinese sheng virtuoso Wu Wei played the unwieldy-looking instrument with amazing dexterity, as he coaxed sounds from piercing squeaks to soothing drones out of it. Also featuring an expanded percussion section that included whistles and conch shells, the piece drew a riot of delighted applause from an audience which had probably been exposed to far more challenging sounds over the years.

The concert continued with seven numbers from Tchaikovsky’s ballet "Swan Lake," which captured a range of dramatic moments in exuberant, committed performances by the orchestra. They were joined in the Couples Dance scene by two members of a revolving cast of four dancers from the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts. The graceful motions of Phoebe Magna and Jack Sprance brought a welcome new dimension to the beauty of the music.

The account of the "Rite of Spring" that followed intermission made its roots in the romanticism of Tchaikovsky sound clearer than usual, while also throwing the novelty of its primitive and harsh energy into sharper relief. The HSO played the score with discipline and abandon, and dancers Jane Cracovaner and Christopher LaFleche from the Hartt School Dance Division wrenchingly portrayed the sacrifice of the "Chosen One" in the closing moments.

With dancers performing on stage with the orchestra, this concert could also have been titled "Unexpected Sights and Sounds." But perhaps the least "unexpected" outcome of this memorable season closer was that the Rite of Spring still sounded as radical and new as ever.

June 3, 2013

Berkshire Playwrights Lab Gala and Summer Season

Mahaiwe Center, Great Barrington, MA
through August 21, 2013
by Jarice Hanson

Tony Shaloub
One of the most exciting companies in the area is planning great events guaranteed to please the theatre aficionado. Berkshire Playwrights Lab will be hosting their Sixth Season Multimedia Gala Celebration on Friday, June 7th at 7:30pm with special guests Treat Williams and Tony Shaloub. The latter was recently nominated for a Tony Award for his outstanding performance in the Broadway revival of "Golden Boy." These fine actors will be joining veteran actors from past seasons of Berkshire Playwrights Lab in performing new one-act plays written exclusively for the Lab. A post-performance reception for premium ticket holders will be held at the Castle Street Cafe.

As the summer heats up, a series of events promise great entertainment and the opportunity to see new works in development. Staged readings of new plays will take place at the Mahaiwe on Wednesdays, July 10, July 24, August 7, and 21. There is no charge for the readings, but a $10 donation is encouraged.

Berkshire Playwrights Lab will be mounting its first full workshop production of Anna Ziegler’s "Life Science" from June 19 - 30 at 8 pm, with Sunday matinees at 2 pm at Bard College, Simon’s Rock Daniel Arts Center (84 Alford Road, Great Barrington, MA. The Saturday, June 22 performance will begin at 9:30 pm., Ziegler is an up-and-coming playwright with several regional premiers to her credit. Berkshire Playwrights Lab’s eye toward mounting full workshops is a mark of the company’s maturity, and the ability to see new works in development is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

June 1, 2013

Two Non-Stop Summer Weeks in the Berkshires

By Shera Cohen

Many ask me about my Berkshire vacation, “What kind of a rest is that? You go to all these places, sit in the dark and take notes, then have to write about each; that’s work.” My answer to them is, “This is the perfect vacation, it’s work that I love, so I combine the arts with work for the best of all worlds.”

To read the full article, FOLLOW THIS LINK

The Interview

Monson Arts Council, Monson,MA
through June 9, 2013
by Jennifer Curran

“The Interview” is an original work written by local playwright Matthew Guthrie and directed by Kathleen Delaney. Set in a representation of an office, the premise of the play is a job interview. The intent of the writer is to deconstruct corporatism as seen through the eyes of the interviewee, The Man.

This production is stripped down to the basics. An almost bare stage, simple lighting, a small table, two chairs and a large rectangular arch made from unpainted, unfinished two by four’s frames the two characters at the table. Several video monitors are at the corners of the stage. It is clear from the beginning that this is not a realistic set and the play itself centers itself in the realm of experimental theatre. There are no characters here; there are archetypes of humankind. There is little story. Rather, the play attempts to use action without an obvious through-line to represent humanity at its best and worst. Corporatism is the villain here and humanity is its victim.

The highlights of the play are scenes in Act II where The Man (Owen Hayden) and The Woman Act 2 (Kate Johnson) begin to have a purpose: to create a list of questions for an interview. Their struggle to accomplish that simple task is exactly corporate America. Here, we finally get a sense of The Woman and why she is there, want she wants and what makes her tick.

Unfortunately, but for those few moments in Act II, the production simply doesn’t accomplish what it had set out to do. Due to the lack of a clear story-line, inexplicable lighting cues and awkward blocking, the audience wasn’t even aware of a killing on the stage or that the play had ended. The director cued us from the back of the house, “That’s it! That’s the end. You can go now.”

This is an interesting and earnest attempt by Michael Guthrie to question modern beliefs, our priorities, and the way in which we earn a paycheck. There is potential in this story and in moments, the writing is solid. There is just so many unnecessary elements here that rather than support the piece, they get in the way

Catch Me If You Can

The Bushnell Broadway Series, Hartford, CT
through June 2, 2013
by Kait Rankins

Catch Me If You Can is based on the true story of Frank W. Abagnale, Jr., who in the 1960s stole nearly two million dollars in bad checks and got away with it by impersonating a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer -- all before he was 21 years old. After serving time in prison, Abagnale has since gone on to work with the FBI ever since, using his expertise to prevent crimes like his own. With his deeds immortalized in a memoir and then a Steven Spielberg film of the same name starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks, it at first seems like an unusual topic for a musical. However, the Frank Jr. of the musical possesses a charm and flash not unlike Harold Hill, musical theatre's most legendary con artist from The Music Man. Under Frank Jr.'s leadership, it becomes difficult to imagine this story in any other medium: After being cornered by the FBI in an airport, Frank Jr. insists on telling the story of his crimes "his way" -- and it turns out his way is to break the fourth wall, bring on the dancing girls and flashy colors, and present his life as if he's host of his own television show.

There's no mystery in what's going to happen: the show starts at the ending scene and is then told through flashbacks, and the program includes a short biography of the real Frank W. Abagnale Jr. that details events set after the show's end. Instead, we know what happened -- but like FBI Agent Carl Hanratty, who has doggedly pursued Abagnale, we want to know how. How, exactly, does a teenager go from being in high school to being on the run? How does a teenager commit grand larceny? Most pressingly, how in the world does a teenager pass himself off as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer?

With songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray, Smash) and a book by Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Ragtime), with choreography by Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, Legally Blonde) and directed by Jack O'Brien (Hairspray, The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), Catch Me If You Can is clever and stylish. Despite wildly different subjects and settings, it inevitably draws comparisons to Hairspray, another Shaiman/Wittman musical set in the 1960s. While the songs are not as infectious or instantly memorable as Hairspray, the music is mostly catchy and the lyrics are consistently clever. Highlights include FBI agent Carl Hanratty's showstopping dance number "Don't Break the Rules" and Frank Jr.'s emotional "Good-bye" when he finds himself cornered with no way out. Some of the songs are forgettable, which probably led to its lack of success on Broadway, but it's McNally's book that saves the day. Though at times strangely paced, the dialogue is clever and quick, all culminating in an emotional ending scene that strips away the flash and style and showcases two actors at their very best.

Catch Me If You Can might border on being too flashy, but relies completely on the likeability of its two lead actors. Stephen Anthony plays Frank Jr. with a geeky, childlike charm. It is impossible to forget that he's just a kid, treating this as a game. He doesn't mean to hurt anyone -- in fact, it doesn't seem like he could hurt anyone. He gleefully tells the story of his crimes, appears and disappears from the stage by slipping in and out of crowds and making use of misdirection, and makes us all forget that what he's doing is horribly illegal. It's easy to want him to succeed. As the walls close in on him, Anthony showcases Frank Jr.'s youth and vulnerability: he goes from expert showman to frightened child with complete believability.

As Agent Carl Hanratty, Merritt David Janes is middle-aged and weary, a dogged lawman who takes the job more seriously than his colleagues. He is incredibly "uncool" by his own admission, lacks the flair of Frank Jr., but has a naturally father-like attitude that slowly starts to reveal itself throughout the story. As these two characters connect, beginning with the end of Act I, we find ourselves less with a Jean Valjean-versus-Javert situation (good-hearted criminal chased by uptight lawman with no pity) and more with two people desperately seeking family and finding it in the most unlikely place.

Strip away all of the flash and color, and this relationship is ultimately the heart of the show and what makes it unique. Anthony and Janes nail their performances and their chemistry, giving the audience two characters to root for and a story to care about.