Cathy Rigbysure knows how to exit with a "bang", or perhaps more appropriately, with a "sparkle". After more than 20 years portraying J.M. Barrie's sprightly boy who "won't grow up", Rigby has decided to hang up the sword and harness, but not before regaling audiences with a touring farewell performance that will indelibly mark her in their minds as the Peter Pan for decades to come.
Under direction of Glenn Casale (who also helmed the Rigby-starring1998 Tony-nominated revival, as well as the Emmy Award-winning 1999 A&E cable production) this is definitely not your parent's "Peter Pan". With such an athletically adept performer in the lead role, Casale is free to shift focus away from the problematic task of convincingly getting his actress into the air, and more toward the thematic issues revolving around characters stuck in a perpetual state of arrested development. And while he tones down the racist depiction of Tiger Lily (Dana Solimando) and her band of Indians, this is nevertheless a much darker - and more violent - version of the work than many people may envision, to the point that parents should be forewarned of the rather graphic nature of the piece, particularly in the several fight scenes between the Lost Boys and Captain Hook's (a delightfully droll, ad-libbing Howard McGillin) band of pirates. However, it should also be noted that the violence, graphic as it may appear in execution is completely bloodless, and in typical cartoon fashion, even throat cutting seems to have little permanent effect on its victims.
What really distinguished this version of "Peter Pan", however, is Rigby's exemplary performance. A limber 51, she still has the physical ability to execute a wide range of gymnastic floor moves, and with the assistance of Flying Choreographer Paul Rubin, the aerial sequences exude both a sense of grace and naturalism that will linger in the mind's eye long after the final, spectacular curtain call flyover. But, Rigby brings something else to the role that, even above her physical dexterity, truly entitles her to own the role, namely her thoroughly believable depiction of a pre-adolescent boy. There have been many great Pan's before her, most with greater natural acting or musical ability, but it is difficult to believe any could have overshadowed Rigby's spot-on performance; she is a clever, highly imaginative, yet painfully self-involved 10 year-old boy, full of "snips and snails and puppy dog tails", who refuses to progress beyond a state of perpetual irresponsibility. Combined with a credible vocal range, the result is a performance that makes the character all the more appealing in Pan's simple human need for maternal affection, and actually serves the production well by adding an element of psychological depth missing in most versions of the play.
Even though there is a particular emphasis on this aspect of Pan's psyche, Casale doesn't give short shrift to the more traditional elements of the piece. Surrounded by John Iacovelli's lush, storybook settings and Tom Ruzika's florid lighting effects, along with costuming by Shigeru Yaji, the production fully meets audience's expectations in its physical depiction of Neverland and its environs, from the Lost Boys underground hovel, to the oft-cut "Marooner's Rock", to Hook's brigantine, "The Jolly Roger" children of all ages will be delighted by the fantastical settings and colorful characters who inhabit them.
McGillin for his part, is the quintessential Pantomime villain in all his mustachioed, bewigged and ad-libbing glory, vacillating between his hook-fisted pummeling of his minions (especially Patrick Richwood's comically obsequious Smee) and the blood-draining look of terror he exhibits at even the merest hint that a clock - and hand - swallowing crocodile (Tony Spinoza) may be lurking in the vicinity. It's a performance that begs for things to go wrong, whether it's a malfunctioning smoke pot or a heckling audience member, just for the pleasure of his snappy rejoinders. The Darling children (Elisa Sagardia, Gavin Leatherwood and Greyson Spann as Wendy, Michael and John respectively) all give spirited performances, and Sagardia proves a properly demure complement to Rigby's brash Pan. The Lost Boys (Jordan Bass, Janet Higgins, Theresa McCoy, Lindsay Nickerson, and Patrick Richmond) are a particularly motley group, more turn-of-the-century bowery street gang than a loose confederation of orphans, while the pirates (Spinoza, Michael G. Hawkins, Nathan Balser and Ryan Mason) comprise a delightfully vicious crew of practically every villainous stereotype imaginable. Solimando and her tribe are given a more sympathetic portrayal here, and their decision to join up with the Lost Boys results in a rousing (if rather longish) Taiko drum-inspired version of "Ugg-A-Wugg" that turns into the celebratory high point of the show.
It would be difficult, if not down right impossible for even the most jaded theatre-goer not to be swept up in the exuberant spirit of this show, from the opening strains of Moose Charlap's and Jule Styne's memorable score, to Rigby's final, audience pleasing "surprise" curtain call. With a bevy of classic tunes in its folio, and a career defining performance by Rigby, this is a "Peter Pan" that will have both adults and children bubbling and humming for years to come.
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