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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Cathy Rigby still flying high as Peter Pan

Also see Richard's review of The Real Thing

Cathy Rigby is making her farewell tour of Peter Pan, currently at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts. The tour started at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in September and is scheduled to visit more than two dozen other cities before arriving on Broadway in time for the Christmas 2005 season.

The fifty-one year old former Olympic gymnast can still fly magically around the stage and even over the heads of the audience, sprinkling fairy dust to make us all believe in those wee folks. Ever since 1997, when she first appeared at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Rigby has made the role her own. The Boston Globe said she "perfectly personifies Peter Pan." She is still snappish, dexterous and high-flying as ever. This pixie is not as good as Mary Martin in her acting, but she has a vibrant voice when singing those Moose Charlap and Jule Styne melodies and the lyrics of Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

The story of Peter Pan had its first American premiere on November 16, 1905 at the Empire Theatre in New York with the great Maude Adams. This actress played the boy who refused to grow up through 1915. Marilyn Miller and Eva La Gallienne played the perennial adolescent boy in the '20s. My first experience with the classic Sir James M. Barrie's story was at the Imperial Theatre during the summer of 1950 with Jean Arthur as Peter and Boris Karloff as the evil Hook. A young composer by the name of Leonard Bernstein supplied the music and lyrics for that production. I was fortunate also to see Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard at the Winter Garden (in the version seen here at AMTSJ) during the fall of 1954. Sandy Duncan took over the role in 1979 with the late George Rose playing Peter's nemesis, which I saw on tour. I also saw a Christmas panto at the Palladium in London with Lulu as Peter and Ron Mooney as Hook. The classic tale is still with us - last year at the Royal Festival Hall a new production was presented with a real boy, James Gillan, playing Peter Pan and the great British character actor Richard Wilson playing Capt Hook. The score was by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe and the London critics trashed the production.

Peter Pan
Dana Solimando as Tiger Lily & Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan
with Company

Peter Pan's current revival is geared toward the kids in the audience, who the producers realize have short attention spans. The production is presented in three acts with the first intermission running 20 minutes or more (at least on opening night). The brief first act takes place in the Darling children's bedroom and sets up all of the adventures of sword fighting, pratfalls and Indian dancing in the second and third acts. The highlight of the second act is the wonderful and energetic dancing in the vigorous percussion-filled "Ugh-A-Wugg" number choreographed by Patti Colombo. The young dancing ensemble is very polished. Even the wonderful, brief dances to a tango, tarantella and waltz by the pirates is beautifully accomplished.

Broadway veteran Howard McGillin (Phantom of the Opera, Mack and Mabel and Kiss of the Spider Woman in London plus many New York credits including Mystery of Edwin Drood and Sunday in the Park with George) joins the cast as an effete Capt. Hook. He is not as campy as Cyril Richard or Ron Mooney but he performs the role with Úlan, and he is wonderfully cantankerous in his own way. His voice dominates the stage, especially in "Hook's Waltz." He is a great asset to this production.

Dana Solimando (Swing national tour) is exciting in her dance numbers as Tiger Lily and Elisa Sagardia is appealing in the role of Wendy. The buccaneers with second-in-command Patrick Richwood are comically bungling.

Director Glenn Casale keeps the action fast paced, so younger audience members can stay interested in what is going on stage. Sets by John Iacovelli and costumes by Shigeru Yaji are striking. Orchestration and Musical Supervision by Craig Barna are first rate.

Peter Pan plays through November 7th at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd, San Jose. For tickets call 1-888-455-SHOW or call 408-453-7108 or visit www.amtsj.org. The next in the series will be Chicago which opens on January 11 and runs through January 23, 2005


Photo: Craig Schwartz


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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