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July 11, 2014, 12:07 am

Allyson Tolbert comes home in new play

“Catch Me If You Can,” based on the true story of Frank Abagnale Jr., a world-class con artist who passed himself off as a doctor, lawyer, jet pilot, forgery expert — all before the age of 21 — runs at the Academy of Music Jan. 15-20.

Coming to Philadelphia for the first time on stage (it had been a 2002 major motion picture starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks), the Broadway production was nominated for four Tony Awards and six Drama Desk Awards. Allyson Tolbert, who was born in West Chester but raised in St. Petersburg, Fla., said she is thrilled to be part of it all.

“I love doing this show,” said Tolbert. “The show is vocally demanding, and traveling is hard, especially since I recently got engaged and so a part of me wants to be home. But I really love what I’m doing so, for right now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Tolbert says it was her mother who really got her involved in this career, beginning when she was just a young girl. She said, “My mom put me in dance class because she felt every little girl should take ballet. And I took to it right away.”

In fact, she took to it so strongly, that she attended a high school for the arts in her hometown, and later earned a BFA in musical theater performance from the University of Florida. Today, her work experience includes numerous regional productions as well as three Broadway national tours.

“Right after college graduation, my career started almost immediately,” she explains. “I did the national tour of ‘The Producers,’ the Mel Brooks musical, then Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ and now this one.”

An avid and agile dancer, Tolbert said growing up she was also lucky enough to have a mentor who got her involved with singing lessons so that, eventually, she could become what’s known in the industry as a triple threat.

“And that really helped my career,” she added, “because here I am in this show in the ensemble of ladies, one of Frank’s passions, but also having a featured role as a singer. So actually, this marks the next step in my career. It’s an opportunity to show a different side of myself as a featured singer. I’m learning how to prove myself and it’s taught me a lot about myself and my art. I know I’m filling very big shoes because this is the first time the show has been done since Broadway.”

In the show Tolbert gets to sing a song called “Doctor’s Orders,” and says she loves singing this song, as well as getting to work with a great cast of performers.

With many of her family members still living in the area, Tolbert said she is both excited and a little nervous about doing this role here in Philadelphia. She notes, “Working her in Philly definitely makes me a little nervous, especially because of the short and skimpy costumes I wear. But still, I feel they will be glad to see me actually fulfilling my dreams.”

And she’s glad to get the chance to prove how this dramatic little girl, who used to run around at family picnics, has turned into a real, working actress.

For the future, Tolbert said someday she’d like to originate a part on Broadway, even getting to perform on a cast album and, hopefully, turning in a Tony Award-winning performance.

“I love what I’m doing today. But my heart is set on doing something that creates history,” she said.