BWW JR: Cathy Rigby is PETER PAN- She Never Grows Up...And I Want to Know Her Secret
When I heard that Madison Square Garden would be hosting a production of Peter Pan this month, I knew I had to bring my kids to see it. We've had an amazing year since I started covering family theatre for BroadwayWorld. My kids and I have seen a lot of great shows. But Peter Pan brings it all full circle for me, because long, long ago, in a time called the early 80's, Peter Pan was playing at the Lunt-Fontanne and it was the first Broadway show I ever saw. Back then, Peter was played by Sandy Duncan, one of the three iconic Peter Pans along with Mary Martin and of course Cathy Rigby.
Then I heard that Olympic medal-winning gymnast and Tony nominee Cathy Rigby would be reprising her famous role as Peter, the boy who never grows up…and jumps and flips and flies…like, a lot. So yes, I did the math. This woman is 59 years old. I thought, How on earth can she pull this off at her age? How will I buy into her as an agile, spritely, young boy?
Not only does she pull it off, she takes her role to a new level, making us all forget that she's 59 and even that she's Cathy Rigby. She's just Peter.
I never took gymnastics as a child, but I have an eight year old who flips and splits twice a week after school. I've seen how much effort it takes to accomplish the acrobatic tricks that Cathy Rigby throws out three times a minute while playing Peter Pan, sometimes in mid air, attached to fly rigging. My husband and I, both avid fitness enthusiasts, were stunned. If I eat nothing but tofu and broccoli and work out four hours a day from now until I'm 59 I still won't ever come close to this woman. She is truly a spirit who never grew up, and that is why she's the perfect Peter Pan.
The flying in this production has been stepped up several notches. I wouldn't say it's as complex as anything they're doing over at Spiderman, but the mid-air choreography has been developed to match the new technology and this production takes full advantage. Not only do Peter and the Darling children fly around the stage, they flip and leap and come out into the audience with Peter soaring over our heads. The "Indians" (they didn't change it to "Native American") are accomplished dancers with intricate choreography and we are even treated to a incredible aeriel silk combination by one of the (Native American) Indian dancers.
That said, it's a tricky thing to bring your kids to a Madison Square Garden show, especially one that carries with it the expectation that audience members will pay attention. I've been in the Garden for Sesame Street Live and it was a family theatre free-for-all with kids in and out of their seats, running through the aisles and talking at full voice. With Peter Pan, it's in this huge space that seems permissive but you can't ignore the fact that you are watching Tony nominee Tom Hewitt as Captain Hook and listening to Jule Styne music. The large space is perfect for the grandiose set and music and of course you can never have too much space for fly-ography, but there is an intimacy that is lost when the environment is telling your kids to feel comfortable asking questions at full voice. Also, a warning to parents: Get there early and try not to bring any strollers. The stroller parking at the garden is shady at best yet the walk from the street into the theatre, up to the box office window, through the lines and back to the seats is enough to tucker out any preschooler. Make sure you get there fifteen minutes ahead of schedule.
As an aside, I have to mention that frequenting the theatre has definitely started to have a positive impact on both of my children. It's more than just fact that my three year old was able to sit through the whole show….OK, ALMOST the whole show (my husband took him out for one ten minute break at the end of Act I). My kids are paying attention now and asking interesting questions. When the first notes of melody started to emanate from the speakers, my three year old asked me, "Mama, where is the piano player?" I thought this was a wonderful question and I was excited to show him the orchestra pit during intermission. My eight year old wanted to know what it looks like in a script when two or three characters have to say different lines at the exact same time. And both of them are now excited to discuss and compare the shows they've seen. My little guy just saw an all-child production of Peter PANtomime at MMAC and he was very interested in the differences between that intimate, accessible version and this full-scale, big-budget production of the same story. It's just nice to see them learning from all of this, and it reminds me to tell you to take advantage of all the great theatre we have here in New York for our kids.
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