About the author:
Frank W. Abagnale Jr. has led two fascinating and vastly different lives. The first was as a teenage con man who demonstrated a gift for forging checks, impersonating pros (including airline pilots, doctors and lawyers) and avoiding arrest around the world. After paying his debt to society, Abagnale went straight with a vengeance, building a career as one of the world's most respected authorities on forgery, embezzlement, fraud prevention and identity theft. For over 30 years, he has been associated with the FBI and has consulted with financial institutions, corporations and government agencies around the world. Abagnale told his life story in the juicy memoir Catch Me If You Can, which was transformed into a hit movie by Steven Spielberg in 2002 and a Broadway musical by the Hairspray team of Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman. As national tour moves around the country, Abagnale reflects on how he rose above his youthful indiscretions and having his life turned into a musical
When Catch Me If You Can was published back in 1980, I never dreamed that it would become a bestseller, much less a major motion picture and now a big Broadway musical. What’s amazing about the book is that it has never gone out of print. I have copies in 37 languages, from Hebrew to Chinese, and 25,000 high school students a year write book reports on my life.
Steven Spielberg, who bought the rights to Catch Me If You Can many years before making the movie, told me that the thing he loved most about my story is the redemption side of it. I got into trouble as a runaway teenage boy, but I didn’t physically hurt anyone. Eventually I was caught and sent to prison for five years and then they released me on parole and sent me home. People understand that I didn’t get away with anything; I did my time and spent the next 35 years dedicated to my country and my family. That’s what makes the story appealing: You can read it and laugh and know that it has a great ending.
It would be easy for me to say that prison somehow rehabilitated me, or I was “born again,” but the truth is that I met my wife on an undercover assignment after leaving prison, and when it was over I told her who I really was. Eventually I asked her to marry me against the wishes of her parents, and she did. I didn’t have a dime to my name, but she believed in me and didn’t judge me on the basis of my past. She gave me three beautiful sons—one of whom, ironically, is an FBI agent today—and her love and trust is what turned my life around. My wife isn’t portrayed in the movie or the musical, by the way. The character of Brenda Strong is based on an Eastern Airlines flight attendant I dated while living in Louisiana, which fit into the story Spielberg wanted to tell about my life between the ages of 16 and 21. We were never engaged, as I was too young to even think about that.
When Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman got in touch with me about the idea of turning Catch Me If You Can into a musical, I’ll be honest: I didn’t know who they were. I’m not a Broadway person or even that much of a music person, but when I read about them online, I was very impressed. I couldn’t picture my story as a musical, but I figured there must be something I wasn’t seeing. About two years later, Marc and Scott invited my wife and me to a rehearsal in New York, and everything we saw was just fabulous. Afterwards, Marc said, “The president of Dreamworks and some of their people are coming tomorrow. If they don’t like it, this is all over.”
I was amazed. I looked at Marc and said, “Wait a minute: You wrote all of these songs without knowing if you could go any further with this show?” And he said, “Yes, that’s the chance we took.” I said, “Please call me tomorrow and tell me what happens!” Sure enough, as soon as the Dreamworks folks were out of the building, Marc called and said, “They loved it.”
What excites me about this musical is that it goes into much greater detail than the movie did about the relationship between my father, the FBI agent and myself. It’s more than me running all over the world being chased by the police—it tells another side of the story, set to great music and wonderful dancing. That fact that it’s uplifting and true really appeals to audiences.
Most people are fascinated by what I did as a teenager, but when I look back at my life, I don’t think very much about those years. I was an opportunist and got away with things because I was very young, but I went to prison and came out and remade my life. I’ve worked with the FBI for over 35 years and been married for 34 years, with three wonderful sons. It’s amazing to me that we live in such a wonderful country where anyone can have a problem in life and get up, dust themselves off and start all over again. And then to have a movie and now a Broadway show? It’s just unbelievable!
Catch Me If You Can plays the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center from December 18 through December 23.