Catching Fire

Source: IN New York Magazine
Date: 2011 May
By: Brian Scott Lipton

Movie-star handsome and impossibly charismatic, actor Aaron Tveit, 27, seems perfectly cast as infamous real-life con artist Frank W. Abagnale Jr., slick enough to repeatedly slip through the fingers of FBI agent Carl Hanratty [Norbert Leo Butz] in the hit musical Catch Me If You Can.

“I am so excited and energized to be part of this show,” declares Tveit (pronounced tuh-VATE), who is giving musical life to the role played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 movie of the same name. “I get to interact with the audience a lot in the first act. Every night, i can tell they are loving this show and going on this ride with us.”

Getting the audience to sympathize with, even root for, Frank – who, from the age 16 to 21, swindled people out of millions of dollars and assumed false identities as an airline pilot, a doctor and a lawyer – has been a challenge for the fresh-faced, blue-eyed, dimpled young song-and-dance man. “Some of the greatest characters on film and stage are anti-heroes, because you can see their moral dilemma,” he notes. “With Frank, you get into an emotional story about this lost kid who idolizes his parents. And when they split up, he just does what he has to in order to survive. It’s important for me to convey that he never meant to hurt anybody or be malicious in any way.”

A native of Middletown, New York (about 70 miles northwest of Manhattan), Tveit played the violin at age 5, and says he wanted to be third baseman for the Yankees when he grew up. In high school, he played soccer, gold and basketball; starred as Seymour in the drama club’s production of Little Shop of Horrors; and saw his first Broadway show, the musical Jekyll & Hyde. But it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Ithaca College that the acting bug really bit. Through an alumnus of the college, he landed the role of Roger in the national touring company of Rent, which was followed by stints on Broadway in Hairspray, Wicked, and Next to Normal. “My parents were really open to be dropping out of college, and if they hadn’t been so encouraging, I’m not sure I would have done it,” he says. “MY dad said to me, ‘If in five years, you’re still broke, then you’re broke and you can at least say you tried.'”

Not surprisingly, his parents were thrilled when Catch Me If You Can received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical, but disappointed that their son didn’t receive a Best Actor nomination, too. Tveit, however, is accentuating the positive. “I am just so happy our show was recognized and that we get to perform at the Tony Awards ceremony,” which will be televised live from the Beacon Theatre (Jun. 12, 8 p.m.; CBS, Ch. 2). “It’s a huge opportunity for our show to spread the word.”

Tveit recalls the first time he performed the Tony telecast – in 2009, with the cast of Next to Normal. “It was so amazing to be on the stage of Radio City Musical Hall,” he gushes. “Of course, I was so nervous before I went out onstage, and I’m sure there will be butterflies in my stomach this year, too. But this time, I know what to expect. Plus, I did Rent last year at the Hollywood Bowl for 18,000 people, which was huge. Still, to be part of the Tonys is just overwhelming.”

Equally overwhelming is the number of major celebrities who have caught performances of Catch Me If You Can, including Hugh Jackman, Bette Midler and Billy Crystal. The opening-night praise of one celebrating acting couple has been most exciting. “I got to meet Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick,” says Tveit. “To hear them compliment me on my work – the fact that they thought I was good – was really amazing,” he marvels.

Even without a Tony nomination, Tveit is being hailed as one of Broadway’s fastest rising stars, a leading man for the new millennium. “I hope to have a long career,” he reflects. “My goals may change in the future, but right now, there’s nothing like being in this show and avenge such a strong, dynamic relationship with the audience.”

And there’s nothing like playing softball every Thursday in Central Park, which he does as a member of his show’s team in the Broadway Show League. On the field and up at bat are theater pros – from stagehands to stars, ushers to producers – representing nearly every show on and off Broadway. “I love the fact that, while the rest of the city can seem like the busiest place on earth, there’s a whole other world going on in the park,” he says. “There’s nothing like New York City. It’s my home and I love it.”