Okay, I admit it. I've never grown up. But you won't want to either, so you can go and experience the National Tour of Cathy Rigby in "Peter Pan". Right now taking flight in the 101st Anniversary of the immortal James M. Barrie story, "Peter Pan" is part of the Kimmel Center presents Citizens Bank Broadway at the Academy Theater Series.
The appeal of this story is truly timeless and since 1904, in its first London debut as a straight play with Nina Boucicault, great actresses such as Maude Adams, Eva La Gallienne, Jean Arthur, Mary Martin and Sandy Duncan have played the boy from Neverland.
This is Ms. Rigby's farewell performance as she has appeared as the boy who wouldn't grow up in the First National Tour in 1989. She then went on to star on Broadway in Peter Pan in 1998 and filmed the A & E Television Production in 2000.
My son asked me, "Why is Peter Pan always played by a grown woman?" (This is true even of the initial production.) Well, hmm, that's a good question. Perhaps it's because our collective "idea" of youth, joy and freedom has no boundaries of age or sex, and Barrie knew this. And if you think about it - it's an extremely liberating thought.
Need I recount the story of Peter Pan: the adventures of the three Darling children as they fly from their nursery window to the wonders of Neverland where they meet with Pirates, Indians and the wretched Captain Hook?
This musical version of Peter Pan, originally done on Broadway in 1954, starring Mary Martin and Cyril Richard, features a score with the well known standard "Never Never Land" by Jule Stein and Betty Comden & Adolph Green and the classics, "I Gotta Crow" and <b."I'm Flying" by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh. (F.Y.I. The first musical version of "Peter Pan" came to New York in 1950 starring Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The songs were by Leonard Bernstein.)
This production has been given an energetic restaging by director, Glenn Casale with exuberant choreography by Patti Colombo. These are Pirates and Indians who can dance! One of the highlights of the show is the Ugg-a-Wugg number with Tiger Lily and the Indians which has been lengthened into an extravagant dance number culminating with Peter and Tiger Lily pounding on a giant Tom Tom.
Cathy Rigby, an Olympic athlete and eight Gold Medallist Winner, soars across the stage like a sprite on a string. But she doesn't merely fly. She tumbles, she flips, leaps, somersaults. And cartwheels. Yes, she dances on air. Throughout this production she is either dancing, flying or like a child, simply never sitting still. In short, she's a little fireball. Her take on Peter is a very modern little boy who bounds headfirst from adventure to adventure. Mary Martin (Broadway's darling) played the role as a very assured and self-aware Pan. But Ms .Rigby's interpretation is much more innocent, more childish and I think more boyish. The tall and stately Howard McGillin, a veteran Broadway performer, plays Hook with great bravura. Upon stepping onto the stage alone, the audience, to my utter horror, started hissing Captain Hook! I hushed people around me to cease and desist as Hook was my favorite character! Mr. McGillin, was at first taken aback by the violence of the response. But when the hissing and booing subsided, he shot back with a quick "But I haven't done anything bad yet!" -- which of course got a big laugh. (Of course they were booing the character, not the actor. And I suppose an actor should take this as a huge compliment --that the audience has so enmeshed the actor as the character that they are one and the same.) However, I think it might be a Philadelphia thing. Philadelphians are notorious for booing their home teams when they don't like something. Or perhaps it's just because kids nowadays are encouraged to speak up and respond. But I think it was the adults who started it!
There were several additions and deletions to the original script which were meant to streamline and modernize the piece (and a few very funny ad libs with the mushroom). Peter and the Lost Boys live underground and a toadstool covers their chimney. Capt. Hook discovers this by sitting on it which sets his pants a burning. When Hook and Smee remove the smoking mushroom cap, they respond with, "Hot, hot, hot!" and ditto when they put it back. But the lid didn't go back on as easily as it came off , so Hook declared it to be a "Pesky Portobello" and Smee replied, "A Shaky Shitake". They probably could have gone on all night, but might have risked notes from the Stage Manager. Patrick Richwood is quite the clown as Mr. Smee, who in his costume and spectacles resembles a deranged Dustin Hoffman in "Papillon". While we're on costumes, the designs by Shigeru Yaji were wonderfully vibrant and very glitzy. Captain Hook was ablaze in red and jewels, while the Indians had what looked like authentic Iroquois headdresses. The Pirates were a mixture of flamboyant Eastern and Western cultures, and there were two imaginative Mermaids costumed in shimmering aquamarine that, alas, were only used for a two minute scene. The sets by Tom Ruzika were equally vivid and fanciful..
There is a great surprise at the end of the show which I mustn't give away - for then it wouldn't be a surprise! And I, being the jaded theatre professional that I am, have no idea how they do it. So, there can be only one explanation - theatre magic and pixie dust!
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