|Former gymnast, Cathy Rigby’s 40-year career playing a boy, who refuses to grow up, flies back to the Pantages, amid all its glitter and glib nuances. Holding the astounding record for the longest-portrayal of the title role, what this production lacks in ingenuity is made up for in Rigby’s significant incarnation. She is Peter Pan.
A couple of actresses over the last century have left an indelible impression on theatergoers young and old but none have soared to literally the same great heights with Rigby’s surety and tumbling acumen, grounded by her capricious wit and impish enthusiasm. She’s back at it again, proving at 60 that she’s still got it. One wonders if some of Peter Pan’s boyish immortality has rubbed off on this mother of four, grandmother, and wife whenever she vaults, does a handstand on a banister and flips and twirls in midair with the widest grin of pure joy. At half her age, I moan and groan just unpeeling myself from my desk—so when I watch a woman a smidge younger than my mother do a back handspring I suddenly feel a bit too grown up…old.
And that’s what keeps “Peter Pan” perennially alive. It’s the fantastical tale of forever staying a child, innocent, imaginative, brave and in Rigby’s case, agile. It is also a slightly cautionary tale, for by never growing up Peter Pan ducks responsibility but is also ultimately alone, untouched by age or time. A sad fact brought home when he returns to whisk young Wendy back to Neverland only to discover she’s no longer a child but a grown woman with a daughter of her own. Childhood is fleeting, but then that’s as it should be.
It’s no wonder then that Cathy Rigby personifies the Peter Pan mystique quite aptly. Those who as a child saw her performance on Broadway or on tour 20 years ago may now be taking their children to see her. The full circle in the story comes full circle in the art as well making the imitation of Peter Pan far more poignant and real, particularly in the final scene. Missing out on four decades of Rigby’s Peter Pan is really missing out on a piece of history and theatrical lore.
The production itself is cheeky if not squeaky-clean to its own weakness. Darker elements have been lightened or eliminated completely. There’s no danger or even malevolence found in Captain Hook and his band of ne’re-do-well shipmates. They are an attractive lot, especially Brent Barett as Hook and James Leo Ryan as a goofily-lovable Smee. Sinister, they are not.
Lagging momentum and pacing problems draw out scenes with too-little to offer dialogue and the pivotal mutiny and overboard of Captain Hook is borderline boring but for the crocodile. Even Hook’s entrance is met with resounding applause before boos eventually drown out the cheers to his droll exclamation, “Oh, grow up!” Barrett is too damn likable for his own good.
The children are immensely enjoyable, especially Krista Buccellato as Wendy as she breathlessly pivots between schoolgirl crush and playing a pretend Mother to the Lost Boys. Kim Crosby plays Mrs. Darling with effusive sweetness but is heartening as Grown Up Wendy. Jenna Wright as Tiger Lily is simply sensational and mesmerizing when she dances but her rib cage body art detracts by calling too much attention to her lithe figure. Dane Wagner as Lost Boy-Slightly Soiled and Michael A. Shepperd as affable Sharkey both give stand out moments.
Personally, Clark Roberts as Nana and Croc put a smile on my face with his every appearance. Stay through the curtain call to see Croc’s fun little spin.
There’s only so much freshness that can be lent to this production until a new Peter Pan fills his/her light foot shoes. Until then, we have Cathy Rigby and frankly, she’s the main, magical ingredient that is our generation’s eternal boy. One would assume this is probably her last flyby. With only two weeks, this is a show worthy of spreading the joy like glitter, especially for younger audiences between the ages of 6-12. For older audiences, Rigby amazes, reminding us that there’s always some part of us that is never too old to fly.
Runs through Jan 15 – Jan 27
The Pantages Theatre
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
We recommend taking the Metro to Hollywood & Vine
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