OAKLAND -- The musical version of "Catch Me If You Can," which made its Bay Area debut in Woodminster Amphitheater over the weekend, is a happily tuneful and highly entertaining show.
It fact, it may be the finest and funniest musical ever about a slick con man, not to mention one who already had swindled his first million before he was old enough to buy a drink. Frank Abagnale Jr. -- charmingly played by Nikita Burshteyn, who has enough talent and presence to light up the amphitheater single-handedly -- is a latter-day Harold Hill who sells charm and confidence rather than boys' band outfits to get away with his temporarily perfect crime.
His story's a familiar one, thanks to the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The theatrical version made its Broadway debut in April 2011 and nabbed four Tony nominations, including best musical.
During his time at the top, Abagnale manages to take over lucrative and high-profile positions, including jet pilot and doctor, by convincing people in power that he is exactly what they want. He gets the knack from his pop, Frank Sr. (Robert Moorhead), a small potatoes con man who ultimately is unsuccessful but manages to inspire his son to con greatness by, among other things, reminding him that most years, the New York Yankees command as much respect for their pinstripes as their talent.
As the young Abagnale's con work is more and more successful, he comes to the attention of the FBI and the agent-in-charge, Carl Hanratty (Jonathan Leavy), who is baffled by the amazing acts of forgery and duplicity and soon realizes that by bringing this bad guy to justice, he and his group can make names for themselves.
But it's not easy, because Abagnale Jr. is always one step ahead (sometimes literally) of the feds.
Our boy even falls in love, as should happen in any musical comedy. And, as you might expect, all good things come to an end.
That's just one of the things that make this stylish musical work so well. It's charming sense of attitude also gives the audience a last-gasp look at the 1950s, a decade so popular, it lasted about five years longer than mere numbers would allow.
The piece is set in the '50s and early '60s, first evidenced by the outstanding set designed by Jon Gourdine, which plays sly homage to the time with bows to everything from Pan Am to the drawings of M.C. Escher. Parts of the show, especially at the beginning, are staged like a '50s TV sitcom or variety show, with Lisa M. Danz's costumes making the look of the era complete.
Director Joel Schlader has given the show a high-energy pace, which makes it a wonder to watch, and choreography by Christina Lazo adds to the forward momentum of the musical.
By Terrence McNally, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays to Sundays through Aug. 17
WHERE: Woodminster Amphitheater, Joaquin Miller Park, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, Oakland
RUNNING TIME: 2 hours,
TICKETS: $18 for Thursday previews, $28 to $59 for regular season; 510-531-9597