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Sky-High Set Design: A Q&A with Designer David Rockwell on "Catch Me If You Can"

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Sky-High Set Design
Sky-High Set Design: A Q&A with Designer David Rockwell on

David Rockwell's scenic designs for Broadway's "Catch Me If You Can" navigate a multitude of challenging times, places, and scene changes to create a dazzling visual experience as light on its feet as the story itself.

Photo by Joan Marcus. Courtesy of "Catch Me If You Can"

Catch Me If You Can is a big, bright blast of a show -- the Tony award-winning Broadway hit based on the book and hit 2002 DreamWorks film of the same name, directed by Steven Spielberg. Like the film, the show tells the larger-than-life true story of Frank Abagnale, Jr., the international con artist who successfully impersonated a doctor, a lawyer, and a jet pilot before he had even turned 21. The story’s counterpoint to Frank’s jazzy, jet-setting exploits is the chase by FBI agent Carl Hanratty, who’s always just a few steps behind Abagnale’s trail, and throughout the cat-and-mouse game that follows, the two forge an unexpected friendship.

Catch Me If You Can opened for preview performances on Friday, March 11, 2011 at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, and opened on Sunday, April 10, 2011. The show’s formidable Tony-winning creative team includes a book by Terrence McNally, a score by Marc Shaiman & Scott Wittman, choreography by Jerry Mitchell, direction by Jack O’Brien (Hairspray, The Full Monty), costume design by William Ivey Long, lighting design by Kenneth Posner, and scenic design by Drama Desk and Tony Award nominee David Rockwell (Hairspray, Legally Blonde).

The scenic design challenges for the show were formidable, including dozens of locations and lightning-fast scene changes. To meet these challenges the sets designed by Rockwell had to be as instantly adaptive as Frank himself! I had the opportunity to interview Rockwell about his wizardry for Catch Me If You Can recently, and he shared some of his inspirations and insights in the Q&A below.

Angela Mitchell: David, thanks for sharing your insights with us. For the development of Catch Me If You Can as a Broadway show, how did you decide to differentiate yourselves visually from the film?

David Rockwell: Our design concept takes its cues from the realm of airline travel and television, so we created a set that is transient, transformable and ambiguous. The sets can be either black or white – which is perfect for a lead character who can fit in everywhere, but never quite belongs anywhere. Color and lighting provide the energy and specificity to the scene.

The band is onstage throughout most of the show, amplifying the amorphous, transient nature of the stage setting, bracketed by a more real setting of the airport terminal in the beginning and the end. The production numbers happen in front, behind and around the band. Music and song are so integral to the storytelling that the band is part of the action.

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