Conman’s antics hit Hunter stage

CHARACTER: Declan Dowling, as agent Carl Hanratty, and Liam Faulkner-Dimond as conman Frank Abagnale Jnr in the Hunter School of the Performing Arts' show.

CHARACTER: Declan Dowling, as agent Carl Hanratty, and Liam Faulkner-Dimond as conman Frank Abagnale Jnr in the Hunter School of the Performing Arts' show.

​A MUSICAL about a conman who began amassing millions of dollars when he was just 15 would seem an unlikely choice for staging with high school students.

But Liam Faulkner-Dimond, who plays the conman, Frank Abagnale Jr, in the Hunter School of the Performing Arts (HSPA) staging of Catch Me If You Can, says he is a relatable character because of his age.

Abagnale is a real figure who committed his deceptions in the United States and some European countries in the 1960s and was caught and imprisoned when he was 21. Ironically, when he was released from jail, the FBI employed him to help them catch con artists because he knew the moves they made.

He is still an FBI consultant and operates a company that helps people to detect frauds. Abagnale called his 1980 autobiography Catch Me If You Can. It was the basis of a popular 2002 film of the same name, and was adapted into a musical staged on Broadway in 2011, with 1960s Motown pop-style songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, the team behind another 1960s-set musical, Hairspray.

Catch Me If You Can was first staged in Australia by a Melbourne company in 2016, and the HSPA production, which has six performances at the Broadmeadow-based school’s Hunter Theatre from October 19 to 21, and a Sydney production in the same week, are introducing it to NSW audiences.

Katie Tennyson, the HSPA drama teacher directing the show, said she chose Catch Me If You Can because it has an engaging story and musical numbers, and a structure that will be challenging for the talented students and help them to further develop their skills.

“It’s a show within a show, with Frank Abagnale Jr introducing the orchestra and the dancers in the opening scene, and staying on stage for virtually the whole of the two acts. Liam is only offstage for about four minutes,” she said.

The show also needs a large ensemble. Frank Jr began his cons when he pretended to be a French teacher while at high school and subsequently astutely claimed to be an aircraft pilot, a lawyer, a court counsel and a paediatrician. So scenes are set in airport lounges, hospitals and court-rooms, among other venues, with many air hostesses, nurses and FBI agents in the song-and- dance routines.

This production has a cast of 60 and a 30-member orchestra, drawn mainly from year 10 and 11 students.

Frank Jr is one of two main characters, the other being Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent who repeatedly pursues Frank and comes to appreciate the family problems he faced in this childhood and youth. Hanratty, a fictional character based on several members of the FBI team, is played by Declan Dowling, who, like Liam, is a 16-year- old Year 10 student who lives in Gosford.

He sees Hanratty as a cool and personable man, with his aim of living a good life shown in a scene which has him wearing a flashing-light tie at a Christmas celebration. 

Bookings for the show can be made through the school website: www.hspa.nsw.edu.au.