If someone told me a female gymnast who attended the 1968 Olympics was going to play Peter Pan on stage and that I’d not only believe the performance, but would be totally sucked in by it, I’d probably tell them to shut their silly pirate hole and take a long walk off a short plank. Never in a million years would I expect to find such a scenario remotely entertaining, but I’m a sucker for big budget stage illusion and I suspected Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan might contain some technical wizardry worth experiencing. The reality is that prior to last night, on a scale from 1-10, my skepticism that Ms. Rigby (who I did not know, nor based on her performance do I believe for a nano second is turning 60 next month) would at all work in the title role was an 11, ranking right up along side fairies coming down and finally getting Prince Harry and myself alone on a deserted island together. Well, Broadway San Jose has put the Never in Neverland, because her performance and the show proved to be completely joyous, nostalgically magical and full of delightful surprises!
There’s a reason her name it on the show. Rigby makes this show. Her gender and age completely aside (not to mention her astounding physicality, flexibility and strength) she is just so flippin’ CUTE. I mean, impossibly charming. She captures the constant movement and energy of a little boy so perfectly. She IS Peter Pan. There was a constant giggle amongst the adults at each of her choices, whether we relate through a little brother, a nephew, or a son, the delivery, posture and inflections are flawless. Jaws were a gape for a good portion of the performance as a result to how accurately she embodies the little boy spirit and how opposite she herself is from him. She’s a treasure and it’s abundantly clear that she understands this character and is so at ease with him.
Hook hooked me right off the bat as well. He was pompous and villainous (without being dark or too frightening which so many bad guys fall pray to these days) and full of quirky randomness, which I totally appreciated. This Thanksgiving I’m definitely thankful for eyeliner (and great seats) as it allowed me to catch every one of the Captain’s subtle eye rolls and sarcastic double takes.
I always enjoy seeing young people on stage getting to live out the dream of being in a big show like this. I think it sets a marvelous example for all of how you oughtn’t to limit yourself and just embrace possibility and dreams. These kids/young adults playing kids, were well cast and not only talented, but appeared to be grounded and relishing each moment.
I don’t know how closely the script follows the original literature (I’m actually quite inspired to pick up a copy and check it out), but whether the original story or due to the adaptation, the script is interspersed with wonderfully quaint and poetic gems of wisdoms. There’s an endearing dose of genuine whimsy weaved between its exposition and technical spectacle which kept my smile on deck throughout the show. The same couldn’t be said of all the songs though. At least not for me. They seemed scarce and repetetive (several reprises) and many were forgettable and unnecessary as far as I was concerned. Still, there are a few classics that still hold solid as crowd-pleasers and bring us closer to the “Peter Pan” many of us are familiar with. This was also the first show in a long while that had some sound issues (a few mics went out and the orchestra over powered some of the music) but they seemed to be aware of the problems, are likely to fix them and I wouldn’t say they ruined anything, just interrupted the flow for a beat or two here and there.
The first act in particular was packed with humor for the adults and humor for the kids. There was a small crossover of universal comedy as well, but it did seem to be one or the other. Either way, there was plenty of opportunity for all the audience members to find their own favorite scene, bit, character or song. I found myself a bit disappointed and unprepared for the intermission to be honest. Aside from Tiger Lily working out her serious anger management issues via the world of what felt like very uncomfortable, politically incorrect Native American interpretive dance, I was sad to see the first half conclude. I was even more sad to see it over when, oddly enough, the second half proved significantly slower and not nearly as engrossing as the captivating initial part. I guess some of that fairy dust wore off with the last hour of good-but-entirely-too-long production numbers and cheesy breaking of the fourth wall. Overall, aside from possible technical reasons (to cover up or allow for scene or costume changes) there are at least 20 minutes of this show that could be deleted without consequence, if for no other reason than to benefit the 4-7 year olds (and the 37 year old) who got fidgety.
That being said the second act is completely redeemed in the very last 2 minutes of your theater experience. Oh for a camera to replay the audience reaction. I’m never very far from my 8-year-old self, I can pretty much access her effortlessly on demand, but in those last moments, the mood of the house was electric and I don’t know if anyone was able to contain their excitment and keep their inner child in check.
Parents beware, this is not a play that teaches your kids good behavior and focuses on “the right thing” by any means. There’s a tremendous amount misbehaving going on here and while totally enjoyable and no doubt based on reality, one should enter in knowing shoving, fighting, spitting, fibbing, stealing, revenge and the like abound. All I’m saying is good luck expecting your kids to come home after the show and not want to throw glitter everywhere, duel with each other and jump off the bed in an effort to fly. There should probably be a safety talk post show just to make sure the infusion of magic leads to stitches of laughter and not the Emergency Room kind.
This production has a completely fabulous first act and some sincerely enchanting memory making moments in the second that I think will prove a great theatrical adventure for families. Believe in fairies (even if Tinkerbell is kind of a biatch) I’m giving the show 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a super special treat for the Holiday weekend. Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan plays through Sunday, November 25th only (with no show on Thanksgiving Day, at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.