Hear the words “I won’t grow up” and the name most likely to pop into your head will surely be Peter Pan, the boy who has become so synonymous with a refusal to grow older, he’s even got a syndrome named after him. That’s why it makes perfect sense for the ageless Cathy Rigby to once again be starring in the Broadway/TV smash Peter Pan, whose title role she first played in the first of four separate Broadway engagements way back in 1990 … when she was a mere thirty-eight. As to the question of whether she can still pull it off twenty-two years later in the musical’s latest National Tour, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”
From the moment Peter soars into the Darling children’s nursery, Rigby makes you believe—that she’s prepubescent, that she’s a boy, and that she can indeed fly, a feat made more credible than ever before by Paul Rubin’s magical flight sequence design and by technical advances that allow Peter (and the three Darling children) to move through the air at breakneck speed and even turn somersaults, feats scarcely imaginable when Mary Martin originated the role in the mid 1950s. Rigby not only flies as Peter, she plays the role with boyish spunk tempered with more than a bit of tenderness and sings terrifically to boot, thereby proving herself a more than worthy successor to the legion of Peters who have gone before her, and maybe even the best of all.
Ah, Peter Pan. Anyone growing up in the 1950s will certainly recall the three live TV broadcasts (1954, ‘55, & ‘56) of Martin in her Broadway role as the boy who vowed to never grow up. 1960s kids will remember the first videotaped version, again starring the legendary Miss Martin, initially broadcast in 1960 and rerun in ‘63 and ‘66. If you came of age in the ‘70s or ‘80s, you may have seen Sandy Duncan as Peter either on Broadway or in your home town theater. For kids today, it’s Rigby who is synonymous Peter Pan, having not only headlined those Broadway productions but toured the U.S. again and again and starred in a TV version later released on VHS and DVD.
La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts and Mc Coy Rigby Entertainment now welcomes Rigby’s Peter back to Southern California, with Glenn Casale returning to direct and Patti Colombo to choreograph—just as they did on Broadway in 1998 and 1999.
What sets this particular stage adaptation apart from the many others that have come from Sir James Barrie’s 1904 original are its especially tuneful songs (about 70% with music by Moose Charlap, the other 30% by Jule Styne) and their clever, funny lyrics (by Carolyn Leigh with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green). Barrie himself is credited for the sprightly, often tongue-in-cheek book, though since Sir James died seventeen years before Peter Pan’s Broadway opening, I’d guess that either its lyricists or Jerome Robbins, who “conceived, directed, and choreographed” the Broadway original, did some script doctoring here and there.
Just as casting a female actor as Peter has become a tradition rarely broken with, so it is expected that the actor playing Mr. Darling will return in Act Two as the dastardly Captain Hook. (What do Freudians make of that?) Broadway star Brent Barrett has a field day playing both the very proper, by-the-book Victorian father and—considerably more flamboyantly—the comically villainous Captain, a role he invests with playful, gleeful comedic flair.
Supporting Rigby and Barrett is the lovely Kim Crosby as Mrs. Darling, a Mermaid, and the grown-up Wendy, with equally standout work being done by the youthful trio of Krista Buccelato as Wendy, Julia Massey, who fooled me into believing she was Michael, and Cade Canon Ball as the youngest Darling, John.
Performing alongside the above is a couldn’t-be-better cast of young triple threats, most of whom are Southern California-based performers whose work has delighted audiences at the Colony Theatre, the Celebration, 3-D Theatricals, CLOSBC, FCLO, ICT, and other Los Angeles/Orange County stages. (Thank you McCoy Rigby and casting director Julia Flores for honoring our supremely gifted local talent pool.)
Like the Darling children, the spunky bunch known as The Lost Boys includes some entirely believable gender-bending by StageSceneLA favorites Carly Bracco as Tootles, whom few will recognize when she returns in the musical’s final scene as a teenaged Jane Darling, and Shanon Mari Mills, fresh from her saucy turn in Dames At Sea, in the role of Lost Boy Curly. A charmingly spirited Dane Wagner is a scene-stealer as Slightly Soiled—that’s the “name” found pinned to his outfit when he was lost by his nanny and ended up in Neverland—and the same can be said of the captivating matched set of JC Layag and Marc Andrew Nunez as Twins Numbers One and Two.
Having the time of their lives in pirate drag (and acting as deliciously silly as the law will allow) are James Leo Ryan as Hook’s comic sidekick Smee, Michael A. Shepperd as the incredibly hulking Starkey, and Joseph Keane as a hilariously accented Cecco, along with Southland treasure Sam Zeller and Anthony Bryant, Cameron Henderson, Patrick Loyd, and Kalen Sakima, the latter four doubling splendidly as Indians. Jenna Wright does some of the production’s best dancing as Tiger Lily (also appearing as Liza), supported by the lovely Jasmine Ejan as her fellow Indian squaw. Fight captain Clark Roberts completes the cast, doing bang-up work inside Nana’s canine fur and Croc scaly skin as well as appearing as the more human Bill Jukes. Swings Melissa Roberts and Rod Roberts are on hand to step in to ensemble roles at a moment’s notice.
In addition to Casale’s masterful direction, Peter Pan gives the fabulous Colombo the chance to create some supremely inventive choreographic moves, and never more so than in “Ugg-A-Wugg,” the most spectacular eight minutes of dancing you will witness this or any year. The show-stopper pits Indians against Lost Boys in an acrobatic dance one-upmanship competition which ends up with every single one of them pounding on the floor with drumsticks in perfect unison–a sensational finish that inspires some of the loudest and longest audience cheers in memory.
The production looks absolutely splendid. John Iacovelli has adapted his 1998 Broadway sets for touring stages and they are a Technicolor treat. Costumes by Shigeru Yaji are from the ’98 Broadway revival as well, and they couldn’t be more colorful or imaginative. Michael Gilliam lights sets, costumes, and performers with vivid flair, while Julie Ferrin makes the entire bunch of performers and musicians sound simply splendid.
Musical director Bruce Barnes conducts the production’s first-rate pit orchestra. Wigs are designed by Mitchell Hale and flight direction is by Sean Boyd. Michael McEowen is production stage manager, Buck Mason general manager, Carla Marie Rugg production manager, and William Alan Coats assistant stage manager.
Southland audiences are indeed fortunate that Peter Pan is beginning the second leg of this National Tour right in our own La Mirada backyard—in the very theater where Rigby and husband/producing partner Tom McCoy have brought us one memorable production after another. Needless to say, Peter Pan is not only one of their finest creative triumphs ever, it provides two hours of escapist entertainment for the tiniest of tots, their most elderly great-grandparents, and everyone in between.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
June 2, 2012
Photos: Isaac James Creative