Cathy Rigby has been touring off and on since 1990 in the title role of "Peter Pan." Yet through all those years, I've unaccountably missed seeing the former Olympic gymnast as this generation's pre-eminent practitioner of Pan in the beloved 1954 Broadway musical version of J.M. Barrie's classic children's tale.
That is, until now. Rigby has returned to Chicago's Cadillac Palace Theatre in a new tour of "Peter Pan," playing now through Sunday, Feb. 10. Rigby last appeared locally as Pan in 2005, but this time she's braving "the boy who wouldn't grow up" at age 60.
"Peter Pan"★ ★ ½
Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayinchicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday (also Feb. 3), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday (also Feb. 6); through Sunday, Feb. 10
Running time: About two hours, 10 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $18 to $85
Parking: Area pay garages
Rating: For general audiences
Lest you suspect that she might be too old to take on the physical rigors of the role, think again. Rigby's pixieish Pan drops the decades away as she executes handstands, does the splits and twirls in all kinds of directions while singing and flying high above the stage. Rigby also masterfully captures the restless energy of a easily distracted boy (who in our day and age would be diagnosed with attention deficit disorder).
Where Rigby and her cast mates don't wow quite as much is with the emotional heart of the show. Instead of delving into Pan's callousness or exploring the uneasy budding attraction between Pan and Wendy (a lovely sung turn by Krista Buccellato), Rigby just barrels through most of the show's contemplative and dramatic moments without much introspection that could offer more depth.
There is also little sense of danger in director Glenn Casale's sometimes rushed staging, so that the dramatic stakes for the sparring Lost Boys, balletic Indians and Captain Hook's ragtag pirate band rarely feel at risk. For instance, Casale's comic incorporation of the pirates in Peter Pan's triumphant reprise of "I Gotta Crow" after the climactic battle only emphasizes the whole "playacting" approach.
Yet for young kids experiencing their first tastes of Neverland via live theater, this "Peter Pan" can still wow in terms of technical panache and solid performances. And for adults returning to the show, this production can tug strains of heartfelt nostalgia -- especially during songs like "I'm Flying," "I Won't Grow Up" or "Neverland."
The foppish Captain Hook of Broadway veteran Brent Barrett (who also doubles as the impatient Mr. Darling) shows off a burnished high baritone voice amid his put-upon humor of being pursued by a clock-ticking crocodile. As Mrs. Darling and Tiger Lily, Kim Crosby and Jenna Wright respectively give good performances that get the job done.
Patti Colombo's choreography is very rousing (particularly for the percussive number "Ugh-a-Wugg"), while the flying sequences devised by Paul Rubin are exciting (be sure not to miss Rigby's audience flyover during the curtain call).
So even if this "Peter Pan" can be dramatically lacking, it nearly makes up for the deficit with technical flash and action. Besides, Rigby said in interviews this will be her last tour of "Peter Pan." So if you haven't yet seen Rigby perform her most famous role, this could be your last chance.