Lobby group wants to entertain

Nearly half a century ago, Frank W. Abagnale Jr. became one of the world's most skilled impostors, using charm and false paperwork to weasel his way into prestigious careers.

Starting Tuesday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, attendees at the musical "Catch Me If You Can" will get to perform a similar feat — albeit one that probably won't land them in trouble with the FBI.

For one hour before the start of the show, which portrays Abagnale's exploits, audience members will receive a "passport" pointing them to three stations based on careers that he faked his way into. At one, they can pose for a photo as a pilot; at the others, they can take a law test and pretend to save a patient's life by putting felt organs in place.

The "Catch Me If You Can" activities are the latest project by the center's Audience Engagement Group, a committee of Segerstrom employees that formed last year to provide an interactive element to Broadway shows. In recent months, the group has tackled "War Horse," "Billy Elliot" and others in hopes of making the lobby as entertaining as the show onstage.

"It was really to make sure people have the best possible experience they can have when they come to experience the center," said Todd Bentjen, the center's vice president of marketing and communications. "We want a person's experience here to be more than just the time they spend in their seat watching the performance."

The group, which numbers about a dozen, arose from a joint retreat of the marketing, development and education departments. The center already offers preview talks for dance and chamber music shows, but the staff wanted to try something more ambitious for the Broadway series, Bentjen said.

With "War Horse," which features a mechanical horse manned by three puppeteers, the center offered diagrams of the horse's body and an actor in World War I costume talking about the period. The "Billy Elliot" pre-show featured ballet students demonstrating moves, while "Stomp" allowed visitors to play percussion instruments.

For "Flashdance," the committee gave patrons a chance to pose as Jennifer Beals in an iconic image from the 1983 film version, where the actress leans her head back under a shower of water onstage. In the Segerstrom lobby, silver streamers doubled as the water.

Bob Bucci, the executive vice president of the marketing division for Broadway Across America, which presents Segerstrom's Broadway series, said the center's project is part of a greater movement among theaters to create multimedia experiences. He noted that in at least one case — the "War Horse" diagrams — a concept birthed at Segerstrom has caught on elsewhere.

"We're sharing that idea throughout multiple cities," Bucci said. "In fact, that same sort of display is in our Canadian cities right now. Segerstrom did it very well because what it ended up doing is giving that little bit of background to the magic of the puppetry they're about to see."

After "Catch Me," the Audience Engagement Group will focus on the musical "Sister Act," for which Bentjen said ideas are already in the works. Any hints in advance? The vice president demurred.

"We're not ready to confess what those are yet," he said.

If You Go

What: "Catch Me If You Can"

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (lobby attractions begin one hour prior to each performance)

Cost: $29 to $99

Information: (714) 556-2787 or http://www.scfta.org

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