Cathy Rigby still impresses in ‘Peter Pan’

Tom Hewitt and Cathy Rigby in 'Peter Pan' -- Photo courtesy of Michael Lamont

NEW YORK — Former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby is so attached to the musical Peter Pan, a show she has performed in for decades, that she has literally changed the title. Now audiences can enjoy ‘Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan’ (the official name) at The Theater at MSG in midtown Manhattan through Dec. 30.

The actress still has a fine voice and knows how to bring the boy who refuses to grow up to wonderful life. In fact, Rigby is so adept at the part that much of the rest of the production feels second rate. The sets are flimsy. The supporting actors are so-so. The staging is economical and not terribly inventive.

But who cares? Rigby is the main draw here, and she can still fly like the best of them.

If you’re planning on purchasing tickets to the limited run, consider grabbing a seat close to the stage. The voluminous theater stretches back far; it can be difficult to get whisked away to Neverland when you can see so much extra space around the proscenium.

The musical, originally directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins, takes J.M. Barrie’s classic tale and infuses it with fun songs that show off the rambunctiousness of the Lost Boys and the dastardly ways of Captain Hook (Tom Hewitt, in fine form). The ditties are pleasant, if not memorable, except the lovely “Neverland,” which can still cause a twinkle in the eye.

The show doesn’t kick into gear until Rigby flies onto stage. Once she descends from on high, the two-act musical finds a nice rhythm and it’s hard not to be taken in by the good-hearted fun.

After watching Rigby’s characterization, it’s no wonder her name is in the title. She tumbles around the stage like a rough little boy who has never learned the value of limits or rules. She has a great accent that highlights the “Oh, come on” nature of childhood. Even her mannerisms when the action is not centered on her character are exquisite; she bounces off the walls, never sitting still, always needing to inspect closed drawers.

There are many times throughout the two-hour-10-minute show where one can easily forget that this little boy is actually played by a grown-up woman.

Because this is a touring production, much of the scenic design and theatrical accoutrement feels cheap and ready-made for moving trucks. There was one time on opening night when the walls of the Darling residence literally shook when Peter flew around with his fairy dust. There’s not much of a ship for Captain Hook, either.

In the creative category, the Broadway-bound Peter and the Starcatcher wins out.

Where Peter Pan showcases its innovation is with the iconic crocodile, who slithers across the stage, and Tinkerbell, represented by an effective glowing light that bounces around the set.

The actors playing the Darling children are darling, but not as skilled as one would hope. Similarly, the entire Tiger Lily (Jenna Wright) story line never seems to fit into the show.

The musical is the definition of streamlined family entertainment that works wonders for the younger crowd and is pleasant enough for the older folks. It doesn’t hurt to smile.

Rigby is able to fascinate any theatergoer. Her dedication to the part, her inspiring physicality and youthfulness, her ability to shed the years (and the gender) and become this title character has become a theatrical rite of passage. You haven’t experienced Peter Pan unless you’ve experienced Cathy Rigby. The two, as the title suggests, are one in the same.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan

  • Directed by Glenn Casale

  • Starring Rigby, Tom Hewitt, Kim Crosby, Julia Massey, Jordyn Davis, Cade Canon Ball, James Leo Ryan and Jenna Wright

  • Playing at The Theater at MSG at 32nd Street and 7th Avenue.

  • Click here for more information. Tickets from $35.

  • Running time: 130 minutes

  • Rating: ★★½☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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