LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
The 2002 hit film, "Catch Me If You Can," told the true story of a teenaged con artist who successfully posed as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer while stealing millions of dollars. Now, that story has been turned into a splashy new Broadway musical by the same team that created "Hairspray." Jeff Lunden has more.
JEFF LUNDEN: When Frank Abagnale, Jr. looks back on the incredible trajectory of his life - from teenage con man to respected FBI consultant - he can only wonder.
Mr. FRANK ABAGNALE (Security Consultant, Abagnale & Associates): I'm going to be 63 years old this month, on April 27th. I did these things between the ages of 16 and 21. I never dreamed, in my wildest imagination, that it would ever become a book or a movie and certainly not a Broadway musical.
(Soundbite of song, "Live and in Living Color")
CAST: (Singing) I wanna live, not just survive, I wanna tell my story live and in living color. Live and in living color. Something special's up tonight with somebody. Live and in living color, got me living black and white...
LUNDEN: The musical tells Abagnale's exploits live and in living color with the character of Frank acting as the host of a 1960s TV show, says choreographer Jerry Mitchell.
Mr. JERRY MITCHELL (Choreographer): The concept was he would tell it in a television spectacular. And then our job was how to wrap the story around that idea and those songs.
LUNDEN: While never letting the audience forget that the story is based on reality, adds director Jack O'Brien.
Mr. JACK O'BRIEN (Director, "Catch Me If You Can"): One of the things that has haunted and fascinated me the most is that Frank Abagnale exists and he actually did do this. Now, he didn't do it with song and dance, but everything but.
(Soundbite of song, "Live and in Living Color")
CAST: (Singing) Just window dressing, everybody knows it's clothes that makes a man. Clothes that makes a man. Play the game, just keep them guessing. Mix and match me, try to catch me if you can. Oh...
LUNDEN: When Abagnale was 16, his parents divorced and he ran away to New York City. Armed only with his considerable wits, and an altered driver's license that made him seem ten years older, he began writing bad checks.
Mr. ABAGNALE: I wasn't brilliant, I wasn't a genius. I think I was just very creative. I saw things that other people didn't see.
LUNDEN: Like when he saw an airline crew outside of a hotel on 42nd Street.
Mr. ABAGNALE: And I thought to myself, wow, if I could get one of those uniforms and then go in these banks as an airline pilot, people would cash my check without question.
LUNDEN: And it worked.
Mr. ABAGNALE: But then I realized that you were able to get on planes and ride around the world for free; you were able to stay in hotels and airlines would be billed; it was great way of meeting girls.
(Soundbite of song, "Jet Set")
CAST: (Singing) Sky's the limit, time to play. I'll put down roots some other day. No need to be a lonely dove. I guess that is the only way to go.
LUNDEN: Choreographer Jerry Mitchell says when they cast the chorus they made sure it had...
Mr. MITCHELL: Ten gorgeous girls, 10 beautiful girls.
LUNDEN: Who play stewardesses and nurses - the girls from Frank Abagnale's life and his fantasies.
As much fun as those adventures are, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman say one of the reasons they were drawn to the story was its emotional content; in particular, the relationship of Frank to his father and the FBI agent who doggedly pursued him. Abagnale says the real agent ended up as something of a surrogate father after he realized his criminal was just a kid.
Mr. ABAGNALE: The father in him and the attitude of chasing me changed a little bit. And I think he felt more that he needed to catch me before I did something that would be real bad and I couldn't get out of.
LUNDEN: Early in the show, Frank and his father sing a song called "Butter Outta Cream."
(Soundbite of song, "Butter Outta Cream")
CAST: (Singing) Don't think of those two when life's the pits. The bug and mouse at the end of their wits. They knew the key to life is that it's what you dream. So, if lemons clog your sink up, don't just stand around and scream, spike some lemonade and drink up, and make butter out of cream. Oh, yeah, just make butter out of cream. You better make butter out of cream. You better make butter out of cream. I'll make butter out of cream. That's right, dad. Get out of that butter bowl.
LUNDEN: Lyricist Scott Wittman.
Mr. SCOTT WITTMAN (Songwriter, "Catch Me If You Can"): In a way, it's kind of a theme of the show, is to turn butter outta cream, because certainly the real Frank Abagnale did that. I mean, he's a true definition of redemption. He's someone who's really turned his life around with the help of others into a really, kind of glorious second act.
LUNDEN: After Abagnale got out of prison for stealing $2.5 million he truly reinvented himself.
Mr. ABAGNALE: Well, I've worked for the FBI now for 35 years. I teach at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. I have three sons; I've been married for 34 years. My oldest son is an FBI agent, who I had the opportunity to teach when he went through the Academy, which is kind of another amazing part of my life.
LUNDEN: And this evening, Abagnale, his wife and three sons will be watching his amazing life story unfold on a Broadway stage as "Catch Me If You Can" opens.
For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.