I went to see the play version of Catch Me If You Can recently. I can’t compare it to the movie(s), which I haven’t seen, or the book they were both based on, but it makes an excellent musical.
Catch me If You Can is based on the real life of Frank Abagnale, Jr., a con artist who, among other things, passed as a pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer–all before he was twenty-one years old. (He didn’t actually fly and airplane, or work on any patients–he was very good at delegating and working in supervisory positions.) He started these impersonations at the age of sixteen, and it’s really remarkable what he convinced people of.
The musical was remarkable–a pretty good sized cast, and a bunch of ensemble characters–a total of six men and nine women, though there was some overlap between minor characters and the ensemble. The men had some costume changes, but the women–they were high school students, nurses, stewardesses (this was before they were flight attendants), go-go dancers, show girls, southern belles, baseball players, and more. It was quite impressive as they came out and disappeared and reappeared as something else.
The story itself is hilarious, acknowledging the audience in a tongue-and-cheek sort of way, the whole play being Frank explaining his life story–it made the experience almost interactive, the audience aware the characters are acting, and the actors playing to the audience. After all, con artists want an audience, even if they don’t want people to see through their masks.
Even though he was unquestionably a criminal, I found myself with some sympathy for Frank pretty early on in the play, and it only grew as they play progressed. Which got me thinking about why we like con artists. Generally, though there are exceptions, we don’t like violent criminals. So why do we celebrate ones like Frank?
I think it’s because they achieve so much–and face it, fooling people into believing he’d qualified for some difficult jobs is impressive, especially since he managed to avoid doing the work that might have killed someone. He’s daring–perhaps too much so–and charming, and clever, and a quick-thinker. Even if we don’t admire the ends those traits are turned to, we admire the traits themselves.
What do you think? Do you admire the clever criminal, who uses words instead of violence to steal?