Neverland, the home of pirates, Indians, flying boys, and fairies, has returned to Cincinnati once again. At the Aronoff Center, the national tour of Peter Pan spreads its magical charms over audiences and features the splendid and seemingly ageless wonder that is Cathy Rigby in the title role.
Peter Pan is one of several musical versions of the original J.M. Barrie 1904 play. The familiar story follows the adventures of Peter, a boy who doesn't want to grow up (and never will while living in Neverland) and has the ability to fly, thanks to fairy dust (from his pal Tinkerbell). He visits a girl named Wendy and her two brothers Michael and John. He convinces them to come with him to Neverland. While there, Peter introduces the trio to his friends, the Lost Boys, and they also have run-ins with Indians and pirates, led by the dangerous Captain Hook. This adaptation premiered on Broadway in 1954 and has had a number of subsequent stage mountings and TV broadcasts.
This Peter Pan doesn't really credit a book writer, rather stating that it is a musical version of the plan by Sir James Barrie. The story is fun, imaginative, and ever changing, which keeps the many young theatergoers engaged. The score for the adaptation is a combination of material by two different songwriting teams. The show started out with songs by Mark "Moose" Charlap (music) and Carolyn Leigh (lyrics), but, before the premiere, additional tunes were added by Jule Styne (music) and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics). The different composers and styles give the show a nice variety of sound, including jaunty energy songs, lullabies, operetta-style ballads, dance interludes, and fun character numbers. The score overall is good, but not great, with the best songs being "Neverland" by Styne/Condem/Green, and "I'm Flying," "Tender Shepard," and the playful "I Won't Grow Up" by Charlap and Leigh.
Even at age sixty, former champion gymnast Cathy Rigby continues to astound with her flexibility, strength, and athleticism in her physical portrayal of Peter. She sings capably, perfectly personifies the boyish impetuousness of the character, and is totally committed to the role. As Mr. Darling and Captain Hook, Broadway vet Brent Barrett provides wonderful vocals, a commanding stage presence, and brings the right amount of flamboyance without going over the top. His Hook is more mischievous and mean than menacing, which is probably a good choice with so many small children in the audience. As Mrs. Darling, Kim Crosby supplies aptly delicate singing and acting, and seems not to have aged at all since she made such a great impression as Cinderella in the original Into the Woods twenty-six years ago. The entire cast does an admirable job in all respects. In supporting roles, Krista Buccellato (an endearing Wendy), Sophie Sooter (a spirited Michael), Lexy Baeza (a convincingly boyish John), Jenna Wright (brilliant dancing as Tiger Lily) and James Leo Ryan (an amusing Smee) are all praiseworthy.
Glenn Castle provides fun and active direction, and the dances (highlighted by "Ugg-a-Wugg") by Patti Colombo are athletic and technically stunning. The four-piece touring orchestra is led by Bruce Barnes, but it's unfortunate that it is so small and keyboard based. The traditional sets by John Iacovelli are colorful and nicely detailed, and convey the many locales of the show clearly. The lighting by Michael Gilliam is professionally rendered and features great effects for Tinkerbell throughout. The costumes by Shigeru Yaji are apt and attractive.
Peter Pan has been entertaining audiences for several generations and the current tour captures the whimsical joy of the story quite well. Cathy Rigby enthusiastically leads a first-rate cast in this fun and solid show.
Peter Pan continues at the Aronoff Center in Cincinnati through March 17, 2013. Tickets can be ordered by calling (800) 294-1816. For more information on the tour, please visit cathyrigbyispeterpan.com.