Catch Me If You Can (The Musical): Don’t Break the Rules
March 31, 2011 at 11:54 am, by Jonah Rank
Last night I spilled ketchup all over my floor—probably because I shouldn’t have been dancing to Warren Zevon’s music while eating a veggie burger. That and I also shouldn’t have tried eating the veggie burger in a hot dog bun.
None of the above is a metaphor, but there is also a “symbolic” truth about this anecdote: I am a Jew who, in many ways, dances to a different tune. But tonight, I had a revelation as a result of watching a preview of Catch Me If You Can (the Broadway musical—which, by the way, was absolutely fantastic, and probably the most fun I’ve had at a Broadway show in several years): dancing as a unified group is a mark of Tif’eret—a term that, in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), is understood as beauty. In Kabbalah, Tif’eret is what happens when you mix together two other Divine qualities: Chesed (lovingkindness) and Gevurah (power).
Quite honestly, I wasn’t expecting to think much of Catch Me If You Can, but one of the first things that happened while watching it was: I found the choreography very moving (drum-hit!). It wasn’t so much that the choreography was marked by a constant artistic depth, but, at the onset, the lyrics added a certain layer of meaning to all of this movement. In “Don’t Break the Rules,” Agent Carl Hanratty (played by Norbert Leo Butz) sings of how you can’t win in life if you break the rules, and he concludes that, “Rules keep us alive.”
Without rules and directions, the chorus of dancers onstage with him would have danced in discord—incapable of creating the complex spatial harmonies that they formed tonight at the Neil Simon Theatre: upper torsos shifting in the opposite direction of lower torsos, hats tipped and dipped at specific angles, bodies traveling stage-right, bodies walking stage-left, heels tapping, toes tapping, people spinning, people still.
The gathering together of so many people so well-trained in particular movements is a moment of beauty (Tif’eret) derived from the power (Gevurah) of a collective of people who approach this common goal in partnership (Chesed). Through the combination of these Divine qualities, this talented cast (thanks to the choreography of Jerry Mitchell) put on what was, as Frank Abagnale Jr. (played by Aaron Tveit) promised the audience tonight, a show that is vivid, “Live in Living Color.”
So, what do I do late at night when I’m eating a veggie burger and listening to Warren Zevon? Yes, I can keep dancing to a different tune, but let me tell you something: when I dance, it’s not as beautiful as what I witnessed tonight (however, when I dance, there is more ketchup on the floor than in any other show; that being said, if you wanna see ketchup on a Broadway stage, you’ll love the show Ketchup If You Can—drum-hit!). Anyway, I have my own movements and my own way of doing things—my own Halakhah. Even though Halakhah is traditionally understood as “Jewish law,” it literally means “walking,” and I honestly do have my own way of dancing, my own way of moving, and my own way of going about things.
I am somebody who believes that Jews should try to be sympathetic to and engaged with Jewish texts, customs, and experiences; however, those Jews are then free to make their own decisions about what Halakhah looks like in their lives, based on how they related to trying out different aspects of Judaism. This particular outlook leads to a lot of unique visions of Halakhah and a lot of solo dancing. There are a lot of beautiful soloists in the world of dance and in the Jewish world, but there is something to be said about an entire ensemble of people who agree to one Halakhah—one choreography: a dance marked by Tif’eret, Gevurah, and Chesed.
At the end of Catch Me If You Can, the Agent wins by never breaking the rules, and Frank comes around to accepting a life of rules (not a spoiler: it says it in the playbill). As much as I love the soloists, I sometimes lose ketchup when I dance in accordance (final drum-hit!) with my own Halakhah. I’m not sure that I would, but do you think I should join an ensemble?
Tags: Aaron Tveit, altruism, Broadway, burger, Carl Hanratty, Catch Me If You Can, Chesed, custom, dance, Don’t Break the Rules, ensemble, experience, Frank Abagnale Jr., Gevurah, Halakhah, Jerry Mitchell, Jewish law, Jonah Rank, kindness, Live in Living Color, love, lovingkind, lovingkindness, movement, musical, Norbert Leo Butz, solo, Tif’eret, tradition, veggie burgers, veggies, walking, Warren Zevon, גבורה, גברה, חסד, תפארת