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Catch them on stage: Students bring a Hollywood and Broadway classic to TMU

By Mariana Schuetze

On March 17, around 30 Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students—hailing from various programs—were gathered in a Kerr Hall classroom running around, dancing, singing and watching one another give their all while performing. They all belong to the Toronto Metropolitan Theatre Company (TMTC) and since October 2023, they’ve been planning and gradually putting together their production of the musical Catch Me If You Can. 

“It’s interesting to be able to work with a piece of media that’s not only also a movie but is also true. Exploring that, and exploring our own twist on it,” said Vienne Janssen, the musical’s director and a third-year creative industries student at TMU. 

Catch Me If You Can made its Broadway debut in 2011 and is adapted from the 2002 movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. Both the play and film are based on the true life story of con artist Frank Abagnale Jr., depicting his journey of crime and evading the FBI since leaving his parents’ house as a teenager. 

“The story is about Frank Jr., who I am playing, telling his story of how he committed a lot of crimes,” said Isaac Van Deven, a second-year RTA sport media student and one of the play’s male leads. “Basically, because his parents divorced, he was really upset. And then he went on a rampage of crime around the world. He posed as a pilot, a doctor, a lawyer, a lot of things.”

With an all-female executive team, the TMTC used this opportunity to revamp some of the script for today’s audiences. 

“In the original Broadway version, Aaron Tveit, who plays Frank Jr., is very much like a ladies’ man, a womanizer. And a lot of the lines are said with that kind of connotation,” said Janssen.  

Janssen explained that the TMTC approached changes to the script with the notion of Frank Jr. being a hesitant kid who doesn’t know what he’s doing, “rather than being this guy who’s super suave.” 

The Kerr Hall classroom used for their March 17 rehearsal overflowed with energy and excitement. The cast and executive team gathered for their second run-through where they performed the entire play and practiced placements, transitions and choreography. 

“It’s genuinely been such a rewarding experience seeing everybody come together and put in the work and make it all happen,” said Lottie Johnson, the show’s choreographer and an acting student at Seneca College. “The first time it happened, I started to cry. I think it was just such an overwhelming experience.”

Even without costumes, lighting and sets, the performances put on by the cast and dancers were exhilarating. The team’s excitement and pure joy came across brilliantly through their performances and helped build the physical world missing around them. 

“We’re just starting to get a taste of that [side of the production], and it’s really exhilarating,” said Makela Dew, a second-year performance production student who plays Cheryl Ann in the show. “I’m even more excited for next week when we’re in the theatre and we get to see all the work of our peers working on set and lighting and costumes—to see it all come together.” 

Outside of the show’s three lead characters—Frank Jr., his love interest Brenda and the FBI agent Carl Hanratty—much of the show’s storytelling relies on the dancers. 

“We play the imagination of all the main characters coming to life for the audience to see. We’re the visual representation of what’s going on in their head,” said Camille Griffiths, a third-year criminology student and a member of the dance core in the show. “So there are a lot of quick changes and movements and short little scenes here and there to amplify the story.” 

An especially exciting bonus for TMU audiences is that the musical’s choreography is brand new. 

“All the choreography is original. I like to watch clips of the show to get some inspiration,” said Johnson. “It mostly comes to me when I listen to the soundtrack enough. It just kind of enters my body in a way, and feels natural to do certain movements.”

On top of all the dancing and captivating story, Gillian Bennett’s powerful performance as Brenda Strong brings a lot of emotion to the stage. 

“It’s interesting to be able to work with a piece of media that’s not only also a movie but is also true”

For Bennett—a performance acting student—they like to try separating themselves from the character as soon as the performance is done. “It is such an emotional song, and it takes a lot physically and also emotionally. 

“I think that my favourite part in terms of the show is “Fly, Fly Away,” because Gillian kills it every single time,” said Joëlle Staropoli, a third-year journalism student who is part of the show’s ensemble.

The choice of Catch Me If You Can is also perfect for a team like the TMTC. The play allows for a large ensemble as well as many solos—so that everyone gets their own chance to shine. 

“There are so many little moments for a lot of people to get to not only be on stage but also speak on stage. There are a lot of little solo singing moments as well. I really think it’s an awesome show for everyone,” said Janssen. 

TMTC’s production of Catch Me If You Can will be playing from March 27 to 30 at the Harbourfront Studio Theatre. Tickets can be purchased on the theatre’s website.

Want a chance to win two tickets to Friday night’s performance of Catch Me If You Can? Follow and DM us on Instagram @theeyewideopen by March 27 at 11:59 pm to be entered in a draw for tickets!

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