Cathy Rigby won eight gold medals in gymnastics. Later, she became an ABC television commentator for the sport and was named “America’s Most Influential Woman in Sports.” Not content to rest on her laurels, Rigby underwent seven years of intense theatrical training. In 1991, she slipped on the feathered cap and flying harness of Peter Pan. Her tumbling ability and quadruple-threat talents made the role her own, and she has been bringing Neverland to eager audiences ever since.
I say that intentionally. Rigby does not bring audiences to Neverland, she brings Neverland to audiences. At age 59, her youth and exuberance still shine through in the role of the Boy Who Never Grew Up. Everyone in the cast is younger than her. Wendy, Michael, and John’s strict Victorian parents are at least 20 years younger. The villainous pirates, who represent the evils of adulthood, are half her age. The Lost Boys and other children are less than 1/3 her age. And yet Rigby brings the spirit of Neverland, the joy of timelessness and the love of life, into all of their hearts, a fact that is punctuated by her life story: Cathy Rigby refused to take her age as a command to seek an easy chair and a remote control. Her very presence on that stage brings that message to all who watch her performance.
The very title of this production speaks volumes: Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan.
To give you an idea of her inspiring performance, here’s Rigby in one of the show’s major production numbers. This is the second act opener “Ugg-a-Wugg,” in which the Lost Boys and Indians make peace. Neverland is ever present within Rigby; she performs this demanding number in a way that few of us younger audience members could ever accomplish:
The sad thing is that just after the unbridled joy of this number, Wendy brings us right back into the mundane world, forcing the trappings of time and adulthood onto Peter. Yet Rigby effectively portrays Peters unspoken concern that he is giving in to his.
The pirates, Peter’s arch enemies, are headed by the nefarious Captain Hook. As usual, Hook is played by the same actor (Brent Barrett) who plays Mr. Darling. This parallel between the two characters emphasizes the sad truth about growing up: time consumes us. Hook, one hand eaten by the tick-tocking crocodile, is the Darth Vader-like representation of adulthood. Once time gets a taste of us, it chases us relentlessly, licking its lips for more. Many of us use makeup, surgeries, and even less unhealthy means to cover up the wounds inflicted by the croc’s hungry jaws, but the hungry beast is not fooled. It remains ever at our heels.
Rigby has found a different way. Instead of covering up the wounds of time, she celebrates her life and brings youth to her audience. Her very presence onstage tells us that time’s insatiable teeth don’t need to be quite so damaging. If we can resist being dragged down with the croc, we can fly as high as we desire every day of our lives. If we celebrate our life instead of undercutting others, we too can sing “I Gotta Crow.” If we take each day as “an awfully big adventure,” then the wonders of Neverland are always open to us. The Second Star to the Right always shines if you know where to look for it.