Once upon a time and long ago, a writer named James M. Barrie introduced the world to a wonderful chap named Peter Pan–the boy who wouldn’t grow up. When the musical adaptation of this classic tale first took to the stage back in 1954, it was immediately embraced anew by theater-goers everywhere. Now, McCoy-Rigby Entertainment and Nederlander Presentations offer the latest incarnation of this musical masterpiece starring Cathy Rigby and Brent Barrett along with an amazing ensemble, at Southern California’s La Mirada Theater Of The Arts in La Mirada California.
Let’s face it, there are few shows one can surrender themselves to so completely–but happily, this is one. The blended score–starting with the initial works of Lyricist Carolyn Leigh and Tunesmith Moose Charlap to which was added several songs by Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Jule Styne, runs an exuberant gamut from fun and fanciful to near-hymn-like–each packed with some of the best expressions of (as Peter proclaims at one point,) “Youth, Joy and Freedom” ever penned for the stage.
Before the curtain rose on opening night Rigby’s husband, Producer Tom McCoy addressed the crowd observing that his wife has played this role for several decades, having grown and evolved as a performer with it to the point that the two have practically become synonymous. “When you think about ‘Peter Pan’ you think about Cathy” he stated, and the truth is, the former Olympic gymnast turned Tony-Award nominated actress actually has managed to make the character hers–sure as Carol Channing is “Dolly Levi” and Yul Brynner owned “The King Of Siam”. From her first entrance, literally flying on to the stage in one great bound (thanks to Paul Rubin–a.k.a “The Fly Guy“–who’s responsible for the flight sequences,) Rigby demonstrates all over again how remarkably she has captured the spirit of this ageless lad–cleverly slipping in many of her old gymnastic moves as a kind of knowing wink to ‘more seasoned’ members of the audience. So too, whether animated anthems like “I’m Flying” and “I Won’t Grow Up“, or the dreamier “Neverland”, each is fully served thanks to her thrilling ability to reinvigorate the many unforgettable songs the score boasts.
Likewise, Brent Barrett breathes bold new life into that “swiniest swine in the world”, Captain Hook! Appropriately menacing but never overtly frightening, he presents a less ‘dandified‘, more commanding (if comedic,) villain, thus setting a whole new standard for what this mean ol’ cod-fish (–and by extension storybook baddies everywhere) can be. Gifted with a big, booming voice he particularly shines in “Hook’s Waltz” set aboard the teeming Jolly Roger Pirate Galleon just before the show’s energetic climax. As Wendy Moira Angela Darling, Krista Buccellato also possesses a terrific stage presence and delightful ability to deliver a song. The lullaby “Distant Melody”, reworked into a stirring duet between she and Rigby, stands as one of the finest moments in a show full of them additionally incorporating a brief dance sequence between Wendy and her brothers which usually occurs in scene one. Meanwhile, as those “brothers” Cade Canon Ball and Julia Massey as John and Michael respectively, are also refreshingly natural in their roles and thus much more effective. After all, the Darling children may be Victorian, but they‘re still kids, and on this occasion that‘s enough–there’s no cloying or forced ’cuteness’ as may have been the case in previous productions. This makes us, as the audience, far more willing to go right along with them on their fantastic journey. Then again, another plus to this version is that all of the young people are pleasantly given that same freedom to just let loose have fun without the burden of having to continually “act” it. Kim Crosby too, does a first-rate job in the often thankless part of Mrs. Darling, pulling dexterous double duty (as many in the cast do) by also appearing as the now-grown up Wendy in the story’s poignant epilogue. Special mention also has to be given to Jenna Wright as Indian Princess, Tiger Lily. Lithe, limber, and fleet of foot, this lass is a high-octane bundle of energy who seems to Terpsichorically challenge the limitations of gravity and motion in nearly every number! Also, Clark Roberts is a surefire crowd pleaser doubling as both Nana the Dog and the infamous, red-eyed Crocodile.
Glenn Casale’s direction focuses on the more amusing elements while keeping the action fast paced and always absorbing (–very important when dealing with younger audiences!) However, he still finds time to showcase some genuinely moving sentiments here and there which keeps this from being simply about boisterous musical numbers and dazzling special effects. He also mixes things up just enough to keep the goings-on intriguing and novel, meaning although it’s Headliner may have starred in numerous renditions of the show before, make no mistake–this time out it’s definitely anything but “the “same old same old”! Similarly, the innovative choreography by Patti Colombo also adds immeasurably to the production’s enjoyment-quotient. Colombo honors, but doesn’t at all try to imitate Jerome Robbin’s original work in favor of creating something wholly unique–often utilizing an extraordinary blend of varying dance styles from ballet to hip-hop. In fact, “Neverland” itself is revealed though a lush adagio that even features a spectacular aerial “ribbon” dance, whereas the act two opener titled “Ugg-A-Wugg”, is a rockin’ rhythmic tribal drum circle that’s so down-right riveting it nearly stops the show! (Who knew that among her many talents Ms. Rigby was also such an impressive drummer?)
Even the curtain call is well-choreographed, culminating with Rigby soaring high over the audience, showering them with “pixie dust” as the croc remains alone on stage waving goodbye to everyone! No need to head for the second star to the right, then straight on ‘til morning–tickets can be purchased at La Mirada Theatre’s website, www.lamiradatheatre.com or by calling the Theatre Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310 (Student, Senior, Children and group discounts are also available.) “Peter Pan” opened on June 2 and will run for four weeks through Sunday, June 24. Curtain times on Wednesdays & Thursdays are 7:30 PM; 8:00pm on Fridays and 2pm and 8pm on Saturdays with Sunday matinees also beginning at 2pm. In addition, there will be special “talk-back” sessions with the actors following the performances on Wednesday, June 6 and Wednesday, June 20, while the Saturday Afternoon performance on June 16 will be ASL signed. The La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts is located at 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada, near the intersection of Rosecrans Avenue. For more information call 562-944-9801 or log onto: www.lamiradatheatre.com.
It’s been asserted that the childhood that hasn’t experienced this enchanting fable is certainly less charmed, and possibly even less complete, so don’t lose this chance to treat the boy or girl in your life–not to mention your own inner-child–to such an ebullient theatrical treasure (Oh, and once you do, don’t be at all surprised if, like the refrain says, “deep down inside it just tickles you so that you gotta let go–and Crow!”)
Photos by Isaac James Creative (Peter & “Tink” By Craig Schwartz) Courtesy Of Demand PR; Special Thanks To David Elzer at Demand PR, The Staff At The La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts And Rigby McCoy Entertainment, As Well As To The The Cast & Crew Of “Peter Pan” For Making This Story Possible.