The stage musical "Peter Pan," starring Cathy Rigby, is a highflying, stellar night of entertainment for families with children or anyone who is young at heart.
Cutting to the chase, Cathy Rigby, 60, is a physical phenomenon. Limber, athletic and lean, the 1968 & 1972 American gymnastic Olympian turned stage performer takes the stage with natural grace and elegance.
The flying sequences (choreographed by Paul Rubin) are stunners, none better than Rigby alone soaring above and among the stars over London. Rigby’s singing is pleasant and her acting is more than competent. The score features several well known numbers ("I’m Flying, "Neverland") and is performed with a full orchestra featuring both local and touring musicians directed by conductor Bruce Barnes.
But while "Peter Pan" is great family entertainment, as a Broadway stage musical this tale about a boy who won’t grow up feels dated, stale and is curling at the edges.
Part of the problem is inherent -- the flimsily plotted novel (1902) and play (1904) written by Sir James Barrie. Peter Pan flies (oddly randomly) through the window into the Darling family nursery. He meets the Darling children: Wendy, John and Michael. Peter teaches the children to fly and takes them to his home: the island of Neverland.
After some adventures, Peter returns the children to the nursery. It is bewildering that with such a feathery plot that the stage is flooded with so many characters. The never-ending Neverland scenes feature not only Peter and the Darling children, but also a gang of "Lost Boys," a tribe of Indians and a band of pirates.
Paradoxically, part of the problem is Rigby. Theater by its nature demands a certain level of suspending belief. But it is impossible not to know that you are watching Cathy Rigby play Peter Pan. Likewise, it is impossible to believe that 60-year-old Rigby is playing a 10-year-old boy. It just doesn’t fly.
Rigby has been performing as Peter Pan for more than a third of her life, originally starring in the third major Broadway production of "Peter Pan" in 1990 for which she received a Best Actress Tony nomination. To be fair, women have traditionally performed the stage character of Peter Pan. However, despite her athleticism and those spectacular flying sequences, Rigby’s Peter is now grown up.
Finally, there’s a very weird gay vibe surrounding Peter Pan in general.
In a twisted, pedophile translation, Peter Pan is a male that climbs into bedroom windows of children and then abducts them to his home. Yuck.
Or, Google "Peter Pan Syndrome" and glimpse thousands of URLs regarding narcissistic gay men with prolonged adolescence that worship youth and refuse to deal with adult issues and responsibilities. Fortunately, neither of the above blatantly appears on stage.
What does appear on stage though is an unintentionally hilarious and campy scene, which would not appear out of the ordinary on The Rose Room stage. Poor Tinkerbell is about to die (gasp!). Peter momentarily breaks the fourth wall and tells the audience that Tinkerbell will die if we don’t all believe in fairies. Peter sprinkles magic fairy dust across the stage as he implores the audience over and over with the phrase, "Do you believe in fairies?" "Do you believe in fairies?" (BEAT) Insert your own punch line here.
"Peter Pan" runs through July 22 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First Avenue in Dallas. For info or tickets, visit www.dallassummermusicals.org