Peter Pan

It’s no surprise that former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby flies through the air with the greatest of ease in the title role of James M. Barrie’s classic play; it’s what the diminutive, steely-armed actress-athlete does when she’s on the ground that makes this Broadway-bound revival of the 1954 musical version of Barrie’s fairy tale so exhilarating. Rigby’s acrobatic Peter–she sings while doing handstands and somersaults–is a dirty-faced, runny-nosed, moody urchin, a charming scamp, a swaggering hero, and a self-centered brat who perfectly embodies Barrie’s fascination with children’s sweetness and savagery. But Rigby also conveys Peter’s essential loneliness and hunger for attention, crucial aspects of the complex autobiographical subtext of Barrie’s story about “the boy who wouldn’t grow up.” (Wounded by his mother’s attachment to the memory of his older brother, who died at age 13, Barrie thought of himself as a boy who couldn’t grow up, reveling in the company of children–especially Peter Llewellyn Davies and his brothers, the inspiration for Peter and his band of Lost Boys–while anguishing over his inability to love women except as surrogate mothers.) Glenn Casale’s fast-paced staging features wonderful storybook scenery by John Iacovelli, high-energy choreography by Patti Colombo (the Stomp-inspired “Ugg-a-Wugg” number danced by the Lost Boys and Indians is terrific, as is the pirates’ music-hall clowning), and an excellent supporting cast that includes Paul Schoeffler as a comic-opera Captain Hook, Michael Nostrand as his flustered foil, Mr. Smee, and Aileen Quinn (star of the 1982 movie Annie) as one of the Lost Boys. The songs (by Moose Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green) are delightful as ever, as is Barrie’s ingeniously poetic script. Sprawling and somewhat overlong, the family-friendly show’s not perfect, but it’s full of the emotionally charged make-believe that’s elemental to theater–and where else are you going to see a star who not only plays to the balcony but flies there? Shubert Theatre, 22 W. Monroe, 312-902-1500. Through September 13: Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 and 7:30 PM. Then September 15 through 20: Tuesday, 7:30 PM; Wednesday, 2 and 7:30 PM; Thursday, 7:30 PM; Friday, 8 PM; Saturday, 2 and 8 PM; Sunday, 2 PM. $25-$62.50. –Albert Williams

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Michael Lamont.