Transvestism, child abduction, an adolescent mother, attempted mass poisoning, homeless kids, human limbs thrown to the crocodiles, hallucinating weirdos who think they can fly. Yes, it's that sweet, wholesome favorite "Peter Pan."
Of all the children's classics, J. M. Barrie's play is undoubtedly the strangest. It may have some of the elements of old-fashioned bedtime stories Indians, pirates, animals and fairies. But at its heart, there are disturbing questions about what it means to be a child and insistent hints of emerging teenage sexuality.
And if you don't find Peter Pan, the ageless boy who refuses to grow up, more than a little peculiar, you need to spend more time with Michael Jackson.
"Peter Pan" is so strange, in fact, that the only way to make it seem normal is to wrap it tightly in some very quaint theatrical traditions. To make it safe, it has been turned into a ritual rather than a play.
Nothing on the stage today is so eternally unchanging as the flying, the glitter, the boyish woman who plays the title role, the boys and girls in the audience applauding for all they are worth to save the wretched Tinkerbell.
Maybe, some day, someone will do for "Peter Pan" what directors and actors do for every other play: look at it with fresh eyes, shake it out of its old habits. But the director won't be Glenn Casale, and the actor won't be Cathy Rigby. Their production is as familiar and comforting as turkey at Thanksgiving.
It might seem that a musical version this one was conceived by Jerome Robbins in 1956 would let in some fresh air. But this is less a musical than the traditional play with a handful of songs, none of them memorable.
Rigby, in any case, has played Peter Pan so often that she has probably spent more time in the air than Amelia Earhart. She earned a Tony nomination in the role on Broadway in 1991, and this return visit is part of a long national tour.
She shows all the commanding confidence of a performer for whom the role has become second nature yet none of the weariness that usually comes with it. She never seems to be flying on autopilot.
If you want a reliable and hardworking performance of all the stock roles, indeed, this is it. Paul Schoeffler is an eminently hissable Captain Hook. Elisa Sagardia is a perfectly charming Wendy. Michael Nostrand's Smee is as predictably dim as Drake English's little Michael is suitably cute.
What you don't get is surprise, originality or invention. Except, that is, in one sequence in the second act when the Indians and the Lost Boys dance together and Patti Colombo's raucous choreography lets rip with enough noise and stomp to stop the kids' worrying whether this peculiar play is really suitable for grownups.
The advertisements proclaim it unequivocally: ''Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan.'' Well some of us might have thought that Mary Martin is Peter Pan, or even Sandy Duncan is Peter Pan. Or a few of the more naughtily sophisticated among us might even have opined Sir James Barrie is Peter Pan.
Still for the moment, I guess Cathy Rigby will have to do, and in fairness she does very nicely indeed.
''Peter Pan'' was always intended - as was Barrie's original 1904 play - primarily for children.
An earlier staging, starring Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff, had songs by Leonard Bernstein. The present version, with music by Moose Charlap and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, started out as a touring vehicle for Martin. When it came to Broadway in 1954 Jerome Robbins added a few songs by Jule Styne, with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green.
It was a hit, and a live performance was taped for TV, introducing Martin to a national audience. Today all that is left of Robbins' staging is the book, music, lyrics and flying.
It remains a very good show for kids and the story reveals the liveliest crew of Pirates outside of Penzance.
Patti Colombo's choreography seems notable for its energy than its imagination, while Glenn Casale's direction has a certain tour-style lassitude. The flying is good - particularly in the curtain call when Rigby flies out into the auditorium throwing magic fairy dust on the audience.
Rigby makes a likeable tomboy, with a pleasant voice but a certain lack of star presence, while Paul Schoeffler has fun as the villainous Captain Hook.
The show, while not exciting, is not disappointing. With this current Broadway season you way well think that a plus.
It was during the "Ugg-a-Wugg" Indian number that the little girl in the rainbow-colored cardigan turned and flashed me the A-OK sign. I might have been quick to suspect her as an audience plant by the "Peter Pan" public relations people. Except that she was my own daughter.
Lizzie and her school chum and theater buddy, Elizabeth, were my companions for a clear-eyed critical assessment of the latest incarnation of this melodious 1954 bedtime story, which opened Monday night at the Marquis Theater, with the former Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, in a reprise of her 1990 Broadway appearance, in the title role. It's no exaggeration to say that the show won a ringing endorsement from my pink-ribbon panel of experts.
Their contentment was unequivocal -- in a theater, 6-year-olds tend to be enthralled or asleep -- although overall, Lizzie and Elizabeth liked the talkier scenes and the mushier songs the least. In descending order, their favorite moments of the production came when: 1) Peter flew; 2) Wendy flew; 3) Michael and John flew; 4) Tinker Bell was saved by their clapping, and 5) the crocodile ate Captain Hook. Their one real regret: Nana, the Darling family sheep dog, never became airborne.
My pleasure was observing their pleasure. For a parent, there are few experiences more exhilarating. And, of course, it took me back 100 years or so, to the first time I saw "Peter Pan" -- it was that grainy television version, starring Mary Martin -- and how wowed I was not by a boy who could fly but by one who had to have his shadow sewn back on. This is not to imply that this new road-show production, presented by, among others, Ms. Rigby's own entertainment company, offers only vicarious enjoyment for adults: Paul Schoeffler, for instance, is in excellent voice as the dastardly Hook; Dana Solimando's Tiger Lily is agile and athletic, and Ms. Rigby's aerial exhibition is as taut as the Blue Angels' sky-high figure-eights.
In fact, despite a few cruder aspects, like the overamplification that gives some scenes and songs the dead-air sound of a stadium public-address system and a scruffy scenic design that looks as if it were cannibalized from old Disneyland rides, this "Peter Pan" is more than passing fair, and better still if you have the privilege of seeing it through children's eyes.
Yes, the company of little theatergoers will undoubtedly put you in a more forgiving mood. But thanks to the dandy score by Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap (with assists from Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green), as well as the efficient staging by Glenn Casale and muscular choreography by Patti Colombo (a remodeling of Jerome Robbins' original work), this seemingly indestructible show is a far more enjoyable, child-friendly holiday spectacle than, say, Madison Square Garden's grandiose "Christmas Carol."
It should be plain by now that those seeking an elegant entertainment after dinner at Le Cirque 2000 should find another box office. This "Peter Pan" ideally follows pizza at John's or precedes a birthday party at Serendipity. Hordes of parents and grandparents apparently had something like this in mind on Saturday afternoon, when the Marquis was the place to be seen for the Playskool set. (Memo to the concessions department: Three words -- Nana Beanie Babies.) Throughout the 2 hour 40 minute show, the wails of toddlers in the intermittent throes of agony or ecstasy competed with the warbling actors. A silent minority the tiny ticketholders were not.
They were struck dumb, however, any time the convincingly tomboyish Ms. Rigby -- looking in her blond mop like a cross between David Cassidy and Rick Schroeder -- was lifted by cable and dive-bombed as if she were a one-woman fighter squadron. These are the best moments that the production has to offer. That's because the ageless Ms. Rigby remains more stuntwoman than star, and only truly captivating in midair. Back on terra firma, her voice is strong and pleasing, if a little ragged on the high notes, and oh dear, I could swear her crowing in "I Gotta Crow" was pre-recorded.
The acting skills are perky but only passable. Effecting a generic British accent, she lacks the ebullient presence of predecessors in the role like Martin and Sandy Duncan.
But the performance pays off when it counts. Her most successful number is the goosebump-raiser "I'm Flying," which is also her most physical. Any time this "Peter Pan" exerts itself, it makes a strong case. The second-tier song, "Ugg-a-Wugg," is transformed here by Ms. Colombo into a first-rate show-stopper, with Indians and Lost Boys forming a "Stomp"-style percussion section. Keeping things kinetic and comfortable for children is the goal of the production, which like the original offers two intermissions, one only 45 minutes into the show. It also excises, for the benefit of younger viewers, a plot-slowing Neverland number sung by Hook and a Peter disguised as a mysterious lady.
As with Ms. Rigby, the other performers are paler shadows of the indelible originals, at least as captured on the video of the television version. But in virtually all cases, this is not a significant distraction. Schoeffler does his best Cyril Ritchard impression as both Darling and Hook, and his singing voice is vastly better than Ritchard's, as made wonderfully clear in "Hook's Waltz." The Darling children, played by Elisa Sagardia, Chase Kniffen and Drake English, are endearing; the 7-year-old English, in particular, has the gift of unaffected adorableness. The Lost Boys, on the other hand, are pretty much a lost cause. They are way too old for boys and one in particular looks as if he's in need of a shave.
Lizzie and Elizabeth, sated by the acrobatics and bagsful of gummy worms, were not bothered by such trifles. Their perspective on the proceedings was defiantly macro, and they made me happy to share their enchantment. Even better, they left the theater desperate to know when they might see a show again. I'll wager they would be appalled by any nit-picking. And as both of them are learning to read, I'm sure I'll hear about it sooner rather than later.
Twirling athletically on high as she spreads her handfuls of fairy dust, and flopping to earth in a gymnastic position that would have given even the ever-game Mary Martin pause, Cathy Rigby continues to make a brash and appealing Peter Pan in the new staging of the 1954 musical now making a holiday visit to Broadway. The tale about the boy who refused to grow up has its own ageless charm, and this widely toured production doesn't attempt to wring any new variations on it. It's content to serve up a traditional aesthetic that probably plays best in the 'burbs, where its theme-park-ride stylings won't be sniffily compared to "The Lion King" by dangerously theater-savvy tykes.
It's not the look of the show but its length that poses problems for some of today's kids, whose continued attention depends on frequent commercial breaks. Midway through the second of three acts, the antsy clatter of plastic pirate swords ($7) could be heard, and a plaintive wail -- "I want to go home!," from a tormented young soul in row D -- stole the thunder from the Darling kids onstage, who had to repeat the sentiment a quarter of an hour later in a far less gripping manner.
If the latter two acts also try the patience of more mature audiences, the first is still purely delightful. The ex-gymnast Rigby has been airborne in the role on and off for 22 years, and first took the title role to Broadway in a 1990 revival, but she never seems to be going through the paces as she charms the Darling children and the audience with her tough-talking, good-hearted attitude. Her affection for the role seems freshly minted, and her exuberant singing is winning. The show really takes wing whenever she does.
Doubling, in traditional fashion, as the stuffed-shirt Darling dad and the mustache-twirling Capt. Hook, Paul Schoeffler is deliciously overripe when needed, which is most of the time. The Darling children -- Elisa Sagardia as Wendy, Chase Kniffen as John and Drake English as Michael -- are fresh-faced and suitably adorable, although their strenuous English accents are sometimes more amusing than comprehensible. (The tale's storybook London setting is about as earthbound as Neverland anyway, so they could easily be dispensed with.)
Patti Colombo's new choreography is peppy and largely pleasing, and doesn't leave you pining for Jerome Robbins' original, as another recently arrived revival does. The big whoop-up is "Ugg-a-Wugg," a rollicking romp for Lost Boys and Indians that shows Colombo's learned a thing or two from Tommy Tune, Susan Stroman and even "Stomp."
Perhaps to keep down costs for a traveling production, this version is rather thin on Lost Boys, Pirates and Indians, with the cast totaling a little over 20 compared to the original's near 40. The kids certainly won't notice, since John Iacovelli's sets and Shigeru Yaji's costumes provide plenty to distract the eye if nothing to fire the imagination. That, indeed, sums up the whole production, which is as polished and professionally pleasing as can be, but only magical when Rigby's eager Peter is on the wing.