Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan: The Boy Who Never Grows up Starring the Olympian Who Never Grows Old
All gymnasts, except one, grow up; when Cathy Rigby sings, "I'm never gonna grow up," you can take her at her word.
The Olympian reprises the role she's been reprising since 1974 in the touring production of Peter Pan that opened at the Pantages Theatre last night. And while I was excited to be sharing a little piece of theater history with my son, I was frankly unprepared for the possibility that the most believable Peter Pan I've ever seen would be played by someone's grandmother. It sounds crazy, but no mental gymnastics are required at all to accept the legendary gymnast as a 10-year-old boy for two hours; that flying granny did one of the most impressive on-stage transformations I've ever seen, treating us to the ultimate eternal boy.
The production itself is classic through and through, with gorgeous Edwardian costumes, a beautifully detailed set, and good old-fashioned dog and crocodile suits for the traditional animal portrayals. The classic design is particularly well suited to the Art Deco Pantages interior, and vice versa.
But it is Rigby's transformation into a joyous 10-year-old boy that makes the show. It's not just that the 60-year-old athlete is still doing cartwheels; it's the way that she does them obliviously while someone is trying to talk to her. It's the way that she shirks eye contact, blurts answers, touches everything in the nursery, makes farting noises, and expects the world to stop when she does a handstand. In short, it's the way she becomes a boy. Perhaps it takes a grandmother to understand a little boy better than he understands himself.
The flying sequences are as joyous as one could wish them to be; there's no resisting an enormous grin as Ms. Rigby sails, spins, and soars through the air. For adults, the experience is doubly beautiful; the knowledge that this boy who doesn't want to grow up is in fact older than any parent in the room and performing feats that we all assume we can't do anymore is flat-out inspiring. I suspect more than one parent finished the evening with renewed commitment to a fitness routine.
Overall, the production is gentle, timeless, and full of light-hearted smiles. Captain Hook is a foppish and likeable villain; Tiger Lily and friends are breathtaking dancers, and the sword fights are clearly just play. The only mildly disturbing moments for very small children might be the sequence when Tiger Lily is brought to the mermaid rock - which opens with foreboding thunder and lightning - and a few times when Captain Hook fires his pistol in the air a bit loudly. A bit of hand holding and the show is easily enjoyed by kids as young as three.
All in all, the show is a true treat for the entire family. More than just physical feats, this production and Cathy Rigby in particular offer a joyous tribute to the idea of never growing old. After all, if a grandmother can utterly convince us that she's a little boy, anything's possible.
The touring production is at the Pantages through January 27, 2013.
Performances: Tue - Thu 7:30pm; Fri 8pm; Sat 2pm & 8pm; Sun 1pm & 6:30pm
Note that only children age three and up are admitted to the theater. Booster seats are available upon request.