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The life of Frank Abagnale Jr. inspired ‘Catch Me If You Can,’ to hit Chicago stage April 2

The musical 'Catch Me If You Can' based early life Frank Abagnale Jr. is stage Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

The musical "Catch Me If You Can," based on the early life of Frank Abagnale Jr., is on stage at Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre.

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‘Catch me
if you can’

◆ April 2-14

◆ Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph

◆ Tickets, $18-$85

◆ (800) 775-2000;

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Updated: March 28, 2013 3:17PM

Frank Abagnale Jr. has the distinction of being one of the youngest con men on record. He told his incredible story in the best-selling memoir “Catch Me If You Can,” which inspired the 2002 Steven Spielberg film and the 2011 Broadway musical created by Marc Shaiman, Scott Wittman and Terrence McNally.

During his criminal career, Abagnale posed as an airline pilot, a doctor, a lawyer and a college professor while also cashing $2.5 million in forged checks all before he was 21. He served time in prison before being released on the condition that he would help federal law enforcement agencies with fraud prevention programs.

Now 64, Abagnale continues to work with the FBI and is known as one of the foremost experts on the subjects of forgery, embezzlement and secure documents.

Currently he runs Abagnale and Associates, a financial fraud consultancy company, in Washington, D.C., where he took a few minutes from his busy day to talk about his stranger-than-fiction past.

Question: What was it like to see this early chapter of your life transcribed to stage and screen?

Frank Abagnale. Jr.: It’s overwhelming and amazing. First Steven Spielberg makes a pretty great film about my life. I never dreamed anybody would make it into a Broadway musical. To be honest with you, when I first heard about it I wondered how it would work as a musical. It was just incredible that Mark Shaman and Scott Wittman were able to write this incredible music and tell the same story.

Q. When you look back, what amazes you about your life?

FA: I know the things I did between the ages of 16 and 21 amaze people. But what’s even more amazing to me is that I came out of prison and have worked as a consultant to the FBI for the past 37 years. I’ve been married for 36 years and have three great sons, one who graduated from Loyola Law School in Chicago and is now an FBI agent in Baltimore. If someone had said to me when I was sitting in federal prison that my life would turn out like this, I would never have believed them.

Q. It took a lot of guts to actually impersonate those professionals at such a young age.

FA: I don’t believe I was overly brilliant or anything. I think I was very creative. I was very young and that helped a great deal. I truly had no fear of being caught. I wasn’t thinking about consequences. Had I been a little older, I think I would have rationalized everything.

Q. When you were avoiding the authorities was that a kind of thrill for you?

FA: It had it moments. But the bottom line is that it was a very, very lonely life. Here I was this kid spending five years of my life on the run. I had to take care of myself; I had no one to confide in. I missed out on a normal life. Even as I see all the success that life has brought me today, if I had the opportunity to do it over again, I would never go down that road.

Q. When you got the get-out-of-jail offer from the FBI was it hard to go work for the agency that caught you?

FA: Prison did not rehabilitate me; I didn’t have some awakening. The government offered me a chance to get out and I took it. But the people at the FBI have such amazing character and ethics and dedication that it begins to wear off on you. It was really my wife (they met on an undercover assignment) who turned my life around. She showed me the importance of being a father and a husband.

Q. How has fraud changed since the 1960s?

FA: It’s 4,000 times easier to do it today than when I did it. There are no more con men today — the well-dressed, well-spoken, well-mannered individual. It’s now just the Internet. You can steal money from thousands of miles away with just the touch of a button.

Q. What are your top concerns about fraud today?

FA: My biggest concern is the personal information that people so freely put on the social sites on the Internet. They make it so easy for those who want to steal an identity. I also remind people that the Internet is forever so whatever you put out there just might come back to haunt you.

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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