‘You are as big as you allow yourself to be’: Penn State Thespians display talent with real-life ‘Catch Me If You Can’

Members of the Penn State Thespians rehearse for the production of “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the Broadway show about master con artist Frank Abagnale Jr.
Members of the Penn State Thespians rehearse for the production of “Catch Me If You Can,” based on the Broadway show about master con artist Frank Abagnale Jr. Photo provided

Penn State Thespians’ fall show, “Catch Me If You Can,” tells the true story of master con man Frank Abagnale Jr. and his life on the run, chasing one’s dreams and not getting caught.

The musical is based on Stephen Spielberg’s 2002 hit feature film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks.

The completely student-run and performed production features Adam Hunter in the role of Frank, with Hailey Rohn directing.

Hunter, a sophomore theater major at Penn State, is represented by Docherty Talent Agency, based in Pittsburgh, and has also done regional theater with the company Faces and Places Alive, headed by Tyrone resident Drew Baker.

Seeking fame and fortune, Abagnale runs away from home with a big imagination, charming and manipulating everyone he meets. Along the way, Abagnale successfully poses as a pilot for Pan Am, a doctor for a top hospital in Atlanta and a Lousiana prosecutor. He passes several bad checks and accumulates millions of dollars. Frank’s lies eventually catch up with him, as FBI agent Carl Hanratty pursues Frank around the world to make him pay for his crimes.

“It goes without saying that Frank Jr. is very confident, clever and probably would have done very well as an actor,” Hunter said. “It really has been a joy to get inside this character’s head and try to understand the world as he does..”

“Catch Me If You Can” is a thriller for sure, but behind its mystery and intrigue, there is an important lesson to be learned from it.

“The overall message of this show it to always make sure that you don’t let the negative aspects of this world bring you down,” Hunter said. “Never let an external force of any kind define who you know you really are. After all, you are as big as you allow yourself to be.”

In her third year at Penn State, Rohn has directed shows for the student-run and produced No Refund Theatre.

Rohn said she believes one of the most important themes of the show is the search for identity and how important it is to know who you are.

“Frank runs away at an early age and jumps from one disguise to another, having to lie to everyone, even to people he loves,” she said. “I think it’s really important that in the end, the last person that Frank would expect to see him for who he truly is still accepts him. It’s a very exciting show, but it does deal with some very tough issues.”

Hunter said he hopes the audience comes away from this show inspired and wowed.

“The show truly is a spectacle to behold. The dances are intricate, the songs are incredibly catchy, and the script is engaging and fun,” he said. “To top it all off, it is all based on a true story. And as far as the talent goes, this group of individuals has a tremendous amount of it. They work hard, they always keep pushing, and everything they do, no matter what it is, has a meaning behind it. The audience is really in for a treat when they walk through Schwab’s doors.”

Founded in 1987, the Penn State Thespians is the longest continuously running student organization on campus and is the second oldest college theater organization in the country. Each semester, Penn State Thespians perform one main stage musical and one children’s show adapted into play form from a popular children’s book.

Because the club is student-run, the Thespians work on all aspects of the show, including ticket sales, set building and costume design.

“It’s a lot of hours, and sometimes it’s extremely difficult to find time for homework, but it’s all worth it in the end,” Rohn said.