Catch Me If You Can

PilotStew Catch MeWe’ve all wished for life to be different at times. Big or small, simple or complex, people often want most what they don’t already have. But what if you figured out how to live that other life? Repeatedly? Would it be enough? That’s part of the journey in the musical Catch Me If You Can, opening March 22 at the Des Moines Playhouse.
Based on the award-winning movie and book, Catch Me If You Can is the story of Frank Abagnale, Jr. He was famous for successfully (and illegally) impersonating an amazing number of people. He “became” a doctor, an airplane pilot, and numerous other individuals (without training or expertise). He also ended up forging millions of dollars worth of checks and living the high life, before ultimately being caught. He then morphed into an expert for the FBI, to help them catch others who try to get away with the kind of impersonations and crimes he committed.

Catch the Con

Connor Ripperger is playing Frank Jr., and therefore also the many roles that Frank takes on. A Drake sophomore, he’s been incredibly active in the local theatre scene since arriving in Des Moines a couple of years ago. In addition to multiple college shows, he’s also performed in the Iowa Stage production of Fun Home last fall, and a Cloris-nominated turn as the title character in Kata Klysmic’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Ripperger is a person who can disappear into multiple roles in shows, and Frank Abagnale is a part he’s been looking forward to for a long time.
Nurses Catch Me“It’s true, I feel like this has kind of become my new type,” says Ripperger. “For the most part, I am keeping it pretty straight leaving Frank as Frank. When I got the part, I purchased Frank Abagnale Jr.’s book and read it in a day. At the end there was a Q&A where they asked him how he kept his head becoming all these people, and the way he did it was that every single fake identity he created had one part of his full name-Frank William Abagnale.”
“I am a big fan of the story and of Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks’ performances [in the movie version]. I was even more familiar with the musical because I am a massive fan of Norbert Leo Butz who played the original Hanratty (the FBI agent chasing Frank). I had seen the staged version once and was obsessed with the cast recording. Frank has been a dream role of mine since I was in 8th grade, so I have learned many of his solos throughout my several years in voice lessons. This is kind of a dream come true and a lot of my friends who have known me for a while know how excited I am about this.”
Showgirls Catch MeIt is obvious in Catch Me If You Can that Abagnale is hugely successful as a con artist, with grace and charm to spare. Ripperger looks at Abagnale as just someone who had a chance to do incredible things, and did them almost too well. “The biggest challenge is kind of finding those moments where he is just a kid. Something a lot of people can overlook when looking at Frank’s wild story is that he was a teenager when he did all these things. So it is finding those moments where the kid comes through, someone who just wants the security of having your parents there telling you everything is alright.”
“Something that becomes pretty clear in this show is that every kid may seem like they want to go on crazy adventures, have lots of money, and spend time with beautiful women. Don’t get me wrong, that sounds amazing, but what everyone wants, including Frank, is to have a home.”

Catch the Chase

Opposite Catch MeEvery protagonist needs an opposite, and in Catch Me If You Can that opposition is represented by Chris Ennis, playing the aforementioned Carl Hanratty. A low-level FBI agent, Hanratty is a by-the-book rule follower who discovers a whole new world in Abagnale’s adventures. “I think to begin with, Hanratty is excited to have something to do,” says Ennis. “He’s not usually getting out of the office, except for a lonely lunch at the corner diner. So, his having a crook to catch IS the biggest thing to happen to him in a long time. Hanratty just doesn’t tolerate criminals. I personally think he would arrest his grandma for taking a pencil from an adult care facility if it didn’t belong to her.”
“As time goes by, though, Hanratty really starts to think that, had he broken a rule, Abagnale could have been the guy he would have become. So catching Frank represents not only getting his ‘man’, but it also stops him from putting a ‘bad guy’ on a pedestal and almost looking up to him.  Carl can’t look up to a criminal, and yet he’s infatuated with Frank and his every move.  If that makes sense.”
Chase Catch MeThe relationship between Abagnale and Hanratty slowly grows over time, and since the two actors are seldom together onstage, they are tasked with building that connection individually. Abagnale is young and impulsive, while Hanratty is much more methodical. “There is this father/son relationship that grows throughout the course of the show,” says Ennis. “Hanratty also has this relationship with his fellow FBI agents. He needs to protect them. He’s guiding them a lot like a father would guide his own children.”
It seems like Abagnale could use a father figure, as Frank’s somewhat absentee dad had no problems scamming someone either. Frank just became much more successful at it. As Ripperger tells it, “Carl is the one telling Frank that he should do what is right, and Carl is someone who is there for Frank even if it isn’t giving Frank what he thinks he wants. In the first act, I think [Abagnale and Hanratty] speak three times, so we have to create some really genuine moments in a very short amount of time together.”

Catch the Charm

Handcuffs CatchSo who is the hero of Catch Me If You Can? Or the villain? Apparently that subject has come up already… “We were just discussing this at last night’s rehearsal,” observes Ennis. “Really there isn’t a villain, in the true sense of a show villain. I think the audience is able to draw their conclusions and see where the ‘villain’ might be. Sometimes it’s Frank himself, and sometimes it’s Hanratty because of his lack of wiggle room. I think it’s pretty cool in the end, Frank is Hanratty’s hero (saving him from a lonely existence) and Hanratty is Frank’s hero (saving him from a life of crime).”
Ripperger sees the same things in the show. “Frank is the one breaking these laws, but he is so charming and so nice that you can’t dislike him. And Hanratty is just an FBI Agent trying to do his job, and he is so goofy and lovable that you can’t help but love him too!”
Audiences will love Frank, Carl, and the rest of the characters that populate the musical story of Catch Me If You Can. The show opens on Friday March 22 at the Des Moines Playhouse. Tickets are available from the Playhouse box office, either in person or by calling 515-277-6261, and also through the DM Playhouse website.
Photos by Steve Gibbons, Courtesy of the Des Moines Playhouse

Chris Ennis Connor Ripperger Des Moines Playhouse