As I sped across I30 to the Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth for the opening night of "Peter Pan" for the Broadway at the Bass Performing Arts Series, the iconic imagery of Cathy Rigby as the acrobatic cantankerous Peter merged with my expectation to linger in the memories of my childhood. I knew the story well, or so I thought.
Having never seen the Broadway production of "Peter Pan" as conceived and directed by Jerome Robbins, I expected a lighthearted romp through a child’s imaginative fantasies as seen through the eyes of The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. Instead, I witnessed a mature examination of the complexities of innocence colliding with the emerging responsibilities of adulthood.
That, and pirates. Lots and lots of pirates! Cathy Rigby’s infamous boundless energy as she pirouetted and soared above the stage impressed. In her wooded forest-green tunic and tights, her acrobatic antics elicited a multitude of excited giggles. Rigby’s Peter is a gender-bending fairy-reared delight who embodies the innocent yet mischievous child in everyone. She fluttered into the stratosphere on lift-off, sprinkling silvery glitter in an endless shower of fairy dust that permeated the nursery and bedazzled the eyes.
With scenic design by John Iacovelli and lighting design by Michael Gilliam, the Darling nursery glowed warm and inviting with three children’s beds flanked by softly murmuring lamps. This intimate scene of familial slumber juxtaposed the deeply blackened stage of glittering stars forming the backdrop to the entrance of Neverland. I dubbed it the Stage of Stars, and stayed immersed in it throughout the show.
Kim Crosby as Mrs. Darling consistently delighted, capturing the timelessly innocent mood in her chartreuse frock. Her matronly charm in a flowered bodice lightly floated across the stage, tucking in little ones in a scene suggesting that not all innocence is lost in the adult soul. Crosby’s pristine effortless voice in "Tender Shepherd" was soothing and sublime.
The technical aspect of the flying was superbly rendered, only once toward the end of Act II did Rigby’s wires become visible, and then only briefly. Rigby has been playing the role of Peter Pan since 1974 and while her acrobatics are as lithe and nimble as a 20 year old, at age 60, Rigby is no longer the ideal "boy who never grew up."
My primary complaint is the quality of her voice. An aging vibrato carries with it a sense of the impending degradation of time, and one simply does not want to concede that Peter has aged. While her singing carried a raspy, workable charm, the sustainment of some passages sounded forced, belying the feasibility of Peter’s supposed age.
Wendy Darling, performed buoyantly by Krista Buccellato, and the Darling boys John and Michael, played by Lexy Baeza and Sophie Sooter, perfectly portrayed the guileless innocence of childhood and were delightfully entertaining on stage.
What is Peter and the Lost Boys’ land of innocence without a proper villain? Captain Hook’s entrance elicited a chorus of "boo’s" prompting his admonition to the crowd to "Grow up!" Sam Zeller, understudy for Captain Hook and Mr. Darling, stole the ship and show.
In a campy, taunting, but never over-the-top bravado, Zeller as Hook demands to know, "Who’s the dirtiest dog in this dirtiest world," taunting his pirate crew. The perfect scoundrel in his red velvet suit with gold brocade trim, Hook led his perilous pirates from ship to shore in a perfect prancing exhibit of villainy.
The native "Indian" set pulsated with a living red background as Tiger Lily, leader of the tribe performed by Jenna Wright, delicately cavorted with Peter and her tribe. The native dancers expertly welcomed us deeper into Neverland, permeated by those pure of heart living in an unspoiled land of harmony. The lush, organic stage design of the native scenery stole my attention for the rest of the scene.
Remember that feeling, the capacity to feel pure unbridled glittery joy? Neither did I until the curtain rose. One grows accustomed to the dull daily routine of waking, working, commuting responsibilities that adulthood requires. We all need an occasional reminder to coax our inner child to come out and play, to revisit the magical lands we inhabited as children.
The Darlings, the Lost Boys, the Indians and pirates can reacquaint us with ourselves before the world wrung the giggles, dreams, and profundities of play out of us. If there’s one feeling elicited by this intimate, rousing, raucous look into Sir James Barrie’s world, it’s the duty we owe to ourselves to be real. When Rigby’s Peter proudly proclaims, "It’s just that I am what I am, I am me!" my heart soared into the starry sky of tumbling teddy bears far away from the cares of this mundane grownup world.
"Perhaps it would be advisable for you to humor the hook," and buy your tickets immediately. As Hook admonished, "You malevolent mob of maritime morons! If you missed this show, you miss a pirate ship full of frenzied fun!" Indeed.