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This Day in My History

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30 December 2004

When you find yourself nearly nose-to-nose with a diminutive pixie flying overhead sprinkling you with fairy dust, you find you believe in fairies and in little boys who never grow up.

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We went to see Cathy Rigby in her farewell tour as Peter Pan last night.   The 51 year old former Olympic gymnast has been playing Peter Pan for the past 15 years and has decided it's time to hang up her tights and...well...grow up.

When I was a kid--and all the years of my adult life too, I guess--there was no other Peter Pan than Mary Martin.  I'd seen her do it on television and everyone seemed to think this was one of her defining roles. I remember that when Sandy Duncan stepped into the role in 1979 I wondered if anybody could really fill Mary Martin's shoes.

I didn't see Sandy Duncan and I had not yet seen Cathy Rigby, who was making her fourth national tour, in addition to having played the role on Broadway and in an A&E television production.  Tickets were difficult to get, I discovered, when I tried to get a ticket for Jeri yesterday morning.  But of course, I had free reviewer tickets, dead center 9 rows from the stage.  I do love being a reviewer!  And I was able to get one extra ticket, but they had no 2 seats together left.

The parking lot was filled with parents with little kids in tow and there were so many children in the lobby it was like going to a movie matinee.  I halfway expected the tot sitting next to me to have a bag of popcorn in her lap. 

It was interesting seeing this show just one week after seeing the movie, Finding Neverland, which is the story about how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan.   (If you haven't see the movie, treat yourself and do.  Johnny Depp is marvelous and the whole movie is very special.  Bring Kleenex.)

Barrie befriended an ailing widow and became an adopted uncle to her three small boys.  They spent a summer playing fantasy games in the park or in the garden, the kinds of games that boys can relate to--of pirates and adventure--and out of that experience grew the story of Peter Pan, whom Barrie based on the young Peter Llewelyn Davies (a wonderful performance by Freddie Highmore, by the way).

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I loved Nana, whose wagging tongue reminded me of Sheila!

The production of Peter Pan started on an ok basis.  I hate that theatres all seem to be overly amplifying the actors to the point where the speech is often distorted.  I guess that's a offshoot of the rock-music generation, where performers can't seem to perform, even in a small house, without a loudspeaker, where car stereos are often turned up so high they cause the houses they pass to vibrate, and where stage performers seem to have lost the ability to "project."  When the overly ampified voices are those of children who are effecting a British accent, you lose most of what is being said.

So I settled in for a kind of ho-hum sort of evening until the windows opened and Cathy Rigby burst onto--or, more accurately, above the stage.   She couldn't have been more perfect.  Her aerial acrobatics, of course, were spectacular--even those 50+ year old muscles and bones still retain their youthful strength and elasticity--but what I found even more impressive was how perfectly she adopted the persona, mannerisms, and personality of a young boy.  I loved the bravado, the swagger, and the constant motion, as a little kid who can't keep his hands off of anything, can't stand still and has to be turning somersaults, and constantly exploring everything in the room.  She was just perfect.

The story of Peter Pan is, quite frankly, boring, once you're already familiar with it and know how it turns out.  Jeri and I both had trouble staying awake in the second act, despite the dance number that everyone agrees is one of the high points.

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But things picked up in Act 3, when the action moved to the pirate ship and, later, back to the Darling nursery.

For the final bows, Cathy Rigby actually flies out into the audience.   We were in row I and she came out as far as row H, so I really was nearly nose to nose with her, as she sprinkled the audience with fairy dust.  The kids in the audience loved it--and I did too!

This production is a family affair.  Rigby is the mother of Nana, a lost boy and a pirate/Indian.  She's the mother-in-law to Tiger Lily, and aunt to John Darling.  She's also sister to the general manager and the assistant props coordinator, sister-in-law to the guy who runs the concessions, and married to the producer.

But best of all, she's taken the role away from Mary Martin for me.   I don't think I'll ever think of Peter Pan without coupling the show with Cathy Rigby.  I'm so glad I had the chance to see her performance before she retires from flying.

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    all photos on this page are publicity photos by Craig Schwartz.

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