“He was a kid in the middle of the '60s, and he learned from his father what it meant to really play the system, to see all the moves you could make,” Hal Roberts says of Frank Abagnale Jr., the character he plays in the musical Catch Me If You Can.
“And he really took that to heart and lived his best life, so to speak," he says.
Abagnale’s best life included becoming a check forger and con man at a young age, hitting the road as a teenager and posing as, among other things, a lawyer, a doctor and an airline pilot.
If that story sounds familiar, it’s probably because you saw the 2002 movie of the same name, which was based on Abagnale's autobiography. The version onstage now at the Georgetown Palace Theatre is based on a movie that’s based on a book, so it’s got a few departures from reality at this point. Still, Roberts did a little research on the real person before portraying him onstage.
“I watched a few interviews, but he’s a very different person now,” Roberts says. “The crimes that were perpetrated were between the years of 16 and 21. … Everyone matures, and he served his time, paid his dues, and came out, I think, a more mature person [and] has changed into such a different person. So the interviews weren’t really helpful in playing that character.”
Roberts has gotten the chance to flex his acting muscles playing someone who inhabited so many personas.
“Usually when you’re a character on stage, you are that character and you do your character arc,” he says. “But I get an opportunity to play three or four different characters – the witty pilot who’s smooth and dapper, an intellectual, fast-talking doctor … and then it moves on to a lawyer. And so it’s really cool to be able to show that versatility.”
Rachel Britain, the marketing director for Georgetown Palace, says the theater has already had a special guest in the audience.
“Sean Abagnale, Frank Abagnale Jr.’s youngest son, came to the show with his wife and I think a couple of friends and met the cast after the show,” she says. (She did a little internet researching to make sure it was the real Sean Abagnale and not an imposter using an Abagnale-style prank to score a free ticket.)
Roberts says he’s having fun and also connecting with the role in an emotional way.
“A lot of energy has to go into it, and it’s really fun to kind of get caught up in it,” he says. “There’s really happy moments in the show and then there’s some down moments and when you get caught up in that you find yourself feeling those things. [It] gets to me, personally, while we’re performing, but I love, love it.”
Catch Me If You Can is onstage at the Georgetown Palace Theatre now through April 7.