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This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

December 16, 1998. All rights reserved.

Broadway Review: `Peter Pan’

It probably won’t come as a surprise to see Peter Pan

tumble, flip and spin, rather than merely fly through the air at the

Marquis Theater when you consider that author James M. Barrie’s little

boy who won’t grow up is being played by Cathy Rigby. The two-time

Olympic gymnast, and the first American woman to win a medal in the

World Gymnastics competition, has had an impressive post-gymnastics

career in the theater. Of the many roles she has played on the road

or has appeared in at the La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, California,

where she is a co-producer with her husband, no role would seem better

suited to her than Peter Pan.

Rigby follows in the footsteps of such illustrious Peter Pans as Maude

Adams (the 1904 originator), Eva LeGallienne, Jean Arthur (in the

first musical version in 1950 with a score by Leonard Bernstein),

Mary Martin (first in the 1954 musical version), and Sandy Duncan.

To put it succinctly, Rigby is perfect.

The years do not seem to have changed Rigby between her first fly

over Broadway in 1990-’91, with a return engagement in 1991-’92, and

this year’s newly spruced up production. She appears to be as

enchantingly

boyish and entertainingly boisterous as the character she plays. With

her blonde hair in an English bowl cut, her lithe agile body pressed

into something close to perpetual motion, and with a little help from

a regular sprinkling of fairy dust, Rigby is the personification of

heroic youth. Rigby’s solid acting, singing of such hits as

"Neverland,"

and "I’m Flying," and that includes crowing ("I Gotta

Crow"), and dancing talents are not to be shortchanged. They are

worthy, I would say, of a few more gold medals.

While I am familiar with the score, a mixture of effervescent and

sentimental songs by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne, with lyrics by

Carolyn Leigh and Betty Comden and Adolph Green, my six year-old

companion

Shelby, to my surprise, was just as familiar with the play’s events

and the names of all the characters.

Everyone knows that "Peter Pan" is the story

of the little boy who refused to grow up and who spends his time

foiling

villainous pirates and leading a troop of little lost boys in

perennial

need of a mother. There is no end to the joys of this musical version

that begins in the nursery of the Darling family’s London townhouse.

It isn’t long before the children’s parents say goodnight and leave

the nursery taking with them Nana, the large protective family dog.

Then strange and wondrous things start to happen.

Children in the audience are always the first to respond to the

flickering

light that dances around the darkened room, as bureau drawers

mysterious

open and shut. "It’s Tinkerbell!" shout more than a few of

the less timid in the audience. That light, of course, is Peter’s

fairy friend whose devotion almost costs her her life. Then there

are the expected squeals of delight and a great burst of applause

as the prankish fun-loving Peter Pan comes flying through the open

nursery windows in search of his lost shadow.

Who can not guess that the three Darling children family will soon

fly out the window with Peter past the second star on the right and

straight on till morning? Under Glenn Casale’s firm direction, the

newly updated adventures in Neverland move swiftly, excitingly, and

generally find the excellent company responding with panache.

It is interesting to note that this version of "Peter Pan"

was originally conceived, directed and choreographed by Jerome

Robbins.

Unlike the other Robbins conception, "On The Town," Casale

and choreographer Patti Colombo have found a way to recharge and

refresh

a classic. A notable change is the re-thinking of the song

"Uga-a-Wugg,"

whose lyrics are now deemed insensitive to Native Americans. Basically

using only the music, Colombo has devised a spirited dance sequence

for the Lost Boys and Indians. As they form an alliance to battle

the pirates, Rigby and the entire ensemble stomp and pound out a

variety

of intricate rhythms on drums. It’s thrilling.

Paul Schoeffler continues the tradition for an actor to play both

the stern Mr. Darling and the smarmy Captain Hook. Aside from enjoying

Schoeffler’s resounding baritone voice, it is his flamboyant display

of unctuous elan that is most memorable. That it attracts the

attention

of his nemesis, that ticking crocodile, is no wonder. Also doubling

is Dana Solimando, whose presence as the Darling’s demure housekeeper

is soon transformed into the dazzlingly acrobatic dancing Tiger Lily.

I could not think of better escorts from Victorian London to Neverland

than Elisa Sagardia, Chase Kniffen, and Drake English, who play the

Darling children. Kudos to designers John Iacovelli (settings),

Shigeru

Yaji (costumes), and Martin Aronstein (lighting) for creating a

fantastical

world: one that should make you believe in it enough to join Peter,

the Darlings and the lost boys as they sing "I Won’t Grow Up."

HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Peter Pan, Marquis Theater, 1535 Broadway at 45th Street,

212-307-4100. $25 to $75


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