BWW Reviews: Cathy Rigby Still Soars as the Boy Who Won't Grow Up in PETER PAN
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by Misha Davenport
Juan Ponce de Leon was off by a thousand miles or so. The elusive and famous fountain of youth isn't in Florida, it's found in the shower of confetti "fairy dust" liberally thrown around the stage and into the audience at "Peter Pan," running through Feb. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. The show succeeds in making the adults in the audience feel like kids again.
Much has been said of the age of the show's leading lady. Tony-nominated actress Cathy Rigby has been embodying the iconic role of "the boy who won't grow up" off and on since 1974. Like the Darling children of the show, Rigby's Pan has been flying long enough so that children who first saw her take flight are old enough to bring their own children to see her in the role.
Now 60, Rigby shows no signs of slowing down. With biceps that would be the envy of any of the gym bunnies in Boystown, she leaps, somersaults and literally climbs walls in the physically-demanding role. Beyond the physical attributes, as an actress, Rigby also displays ample charm and youthful energy that makes her performance as a six year-old boy somewhat believable. When she sings "I Won't Grow Up," you are inclined to believe her.
The show itself is as old-fashioned as it gets. Loosely based on the play by James Barrie with music by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh (there is additional music by Jule Styne and additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green), insensitive stereotypes abound with native Americans (the "Ugg-a-Wugg" song opens the second act) and a pirate crew featuring, among other others, an "organ-grinder" Italian and a Chinese guy with Fu Manchu mustache.
It's basis is in traditional English children's panto, so you do have to forgive them some of the more groan-inducing moments when modern political correctness goes out the window. Like panto, you have the hero played by a woman (Rigby), audience participation ("clap if you believe in fairies"), and an actor playing an animal or two (Clark Roberts, who steals the scene as both the Darling family's faithful watchdog Nana and as the villain-chasing crocodile who swallowed a clock).
One could even argue that there is a nod to the panto tradition of drag. Brent Barrett's Captain Hook is less menacing than he is a bit of dashing fop. Even when he is being as dastardly as required by the role, he still comes across as a charming and aloof cad. Shout-outs to James Leo Ryan and Dane Wagner who both stand out in their roles as Hook's right hand (hook?) man Smee and Lost Boy Slightly, respectively
The show does feature some amazing dancing, courtesy of Jenna Wright as the Indian princess Tiger Lily. The choreography of "Indians!" owes much to the original production's moves created by the late Jerome Robbins, but that doesn't make the moment any less spectacular than it is.
The adult in me does wish that the scenes between Wendy (Krista Buccellato) and Mrs. Darling (Kim Crosby) carried a bit more gravitas. In Mrs. Darling's case, can there truly be anything more horrible than losing all of your children to a strange boy who comes in through windows at night? For Wendy, not only do we have the issue of unrequited love, but her would-be Romeo remains frozen in time while Wendy eventually yields to the passage of time.
Rigby and the cast ensure there's still enough magic and fairy dust in "Pan," though.
"Peter Pan" runs through Feb. 10 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph. Tickets, $18-$85.