ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
A Brief History of Peter Pan
As the lights over Wendy, John and Michael Darling's beds go out and the nursery of their London townhouse is thrown into darkness, a small light bounces across their nursery. Wendy's dollhouse is mysteriously illuminated and dresser drawers slide open and shut. And then, most mysterious of all, an unseen hand pushes the bedroom windows open and, wonder of wonders, Peter Pan comes soaring through -- and into our hearts.
Whether you're a parent, grandparent or aunt tagging along with your own little Darling, I dare you not to have a grand time at this never aging musical with its determinedly forever young hero portrayed by the seemingly ageless Cathy Rigby. The Olympic gymnast turned actress, singer and entrepreneur (the current Peter Pan is a McCoy Rigby production) flies with the greatest of ease, not just at the beginning but throughout the show and, most thrillingly right over the audience at the end. She perfectly captures Peter's boundless energy and eagerness for adventure. If her voice isn't quite on a par with her flying, it nevertheless gains altitude with such delightful standards as "I Gotta Crow", "Neverland" and the show's biggest hit, "I'm Flying."
Having at least one kid in tow is almost a prerequisite for seeing this musical. Yet, its adult appeal goes beyond the not inconsiderable pleasure of seeing the first-time watcher's open-mouthed wonder as the three siblings and Peter fly off to Neverland. The pathos reaching through this timeless fantasy insistently tugs at even the most hardened adult's childhood feelings of believing that maybe you too could learn to fly.
In many ways this splendidly re-staged, directed and performed production of Cathy Rigby's triumphant 1990/91 and 1991/92 revival more successfully achieves its goal of reinvigorating and updating a semi-classic musical than the recently revived On the Town. Betty Comden and Adolph Green's contribution to both shows holds up (they wrote all the lyrics of On the Town and lent a helping hand to Peter Pan's chief lyricist Carolyn Leigh). But the story of three sailors on leave in wartime New York City simply didn't prove as indestructible as the Darling children's adventures with Peter, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys of Neverland, pirates, Indians and the ticking crocodile.
To take this a step further, there's also the delightful choreography. Like On the Town, the musical version of J. M. Barrie's play is based on a concept by the late Jerome Robbins. On the Town scuttled the original choreography while Peter Pan's director Glenn Casala and choreographer Patti Colombo managed to give their dance routines a new sensibility. while remaining true to the Robbins' influence. This is best illustrated by the one super production number, "Ugg-a-Wugg" in which the potentially politically incorrect Indian routine becomes a terrific foot stomping, drum beating anthem of brotherhood between the lost boys and the Indians.
As Mr. Casala has found the right dance beat, he has also tapped into the darker undercurrents of the boys' yearning for a mother and the loneliness that is Peter's price for never growing up. Happily this more serious subtext in no way sacrifices the show's fun elements, which are greatly abetted by the supporting cast. Paul Schoeffler does double duty as Dad Darling and a deliciously wicked Captain Hook. He not only leers and sneers with panache but brings a booming Broadway voice to the part. Several other cast members play more than one role. Dana Solimando, for example, enters the stage as the Darling housekeeper Liza and goes on to make her mark as Tiger Lily. Elisa Sagardia, Chase Kniffen, and Drake English are fine as Wendy, John and Michael Darling respectively, with the latter particularly, well, darling.
John Iacovelli has created a handsome Victorian nursery to serve as a bookend to the colorful Neverland and pirate ship scenes. Shigeru Yaji's costume designs are equally apt for all occasions.
Tickets to this limited run show are selling like the perennial hot cakes. While Peter must fly out of the Marquis to make way for Annie Get Your Gun, the Livent organization's problems have short circuited the show's next touring stop in Canada. That means it might just move to another available house. But don't bank on rumor becoming fact . Grab your tickets now if you can.
On the Town