Why do the Yankees always win? “Nobody can keep their eyes off the pinstripes.”
Frank Abagnale Jr., the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can,” learns this lesson from his father, and subsequently stole millions of dollars by impersonating an airline pilot, a doctor and a prosecutor.
While Frank Jr. used misdirection and distractions to elude Carl Hanratty, an FBI agent played by Tom Hanks, there’s no hiding from the spotlight for Andrew Feldman, a sophomore at Lawrence Woodmere Academy. Feldman played Frank Jr. in LWA’s performance of the movie’s musical adaptation, and on May 19, he received the Roger Rees Award for Best Actor.
Rees, a Tony Award-winning actor, died in 2015. To commemorate his generous spirit and love for helping younger actors the Broadway Education Alliance named the awards for him. In addition to Best Actor, there are Best Actress and Best Up-and-Comer, both male and female, awards.
Selected from across New York state, 25 male and 25 female high school students took part in a master class organized by the Broadway Education Alliance. Feldman worked with Broadway veteran Robin Lewis before performing for the judges and being named Best Actor. He’ll represent New York at the Broadway League Foundation’s Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, on June 25.
Feldman was familiar with both the movie and play before LWA’s production began, but put his own spin on the role. “I found that the script isn’t very clear about who Frank is and what his motivations are,” he said. “We just so happened to be reading ‘Catcher in the Rye’ in English class. I didn’t want to rely on what’s on the page, so I used some of Holden [Caulfield] as inspiration.”
Broadway Education Alliance board member, Susan Lee explained that the goal is to shine a light on school theater programs, which she said are often overlooked. While Lee wasn’t able to work directly with Feldman, she said his talent is evident. “You can tell if someone has star quality by the way they walk to the center of the room and take position. The judges could see how confident he was.”
Tasha Partee, LWA’s theater teacher, entered Andrew in the competition at his behest. She hopes that they’ll be able continue to enter students, making it an “ongoing tradition.” Partee said, Feldman is integral to the program both on and off the stage.
“What he adds in terms of ideas and enthusiasm contributes so much to the department,” she said. “His talent is unmistakable but what people what might not know is what an incredibly giving and kind caring person he is. His talent is only matched by his heart.”
In 2014, as a bar mitzvah project Feldman created Zneefrock Productions, a theater company that fundraises for the charity NEXT for Autism. Its next show is July 27 at LWA, and has already raised $3,000.
Feldman grew up attending Broadway shows, first seeing “Beauty and the Beast” when he was six or seven. When he was eight he had his first role as Mr. Bundles in a production of “Annie,” and hasn’t stopped since, “Broadway would be so cool,” he said of a potential career. “I would love to make a living doing theatre. I want to be involved with the theater for the rest of my life.”