"Peter Pan," Sir James M. Barrie's fantasy about a boy who never grew up, is only a few years younger than the century. But the story is so imaginative, the music added to it in 1954 by a handful of masterly American composers and lyricists so perfect, that it doesn't seem to have aged at all.
When Cathy Rigby, who plays Peter in this revival, whooshes in through the window of the Darlings' London townhouse, flying with an abandon, a carefree spirit few have equalled, the musical seems utterly fresh and enchanting.
At time the revival has the most perfunctory quality most revivals have. Some of the scenes lack the emotional impact and sharpness they ought to have. Visually it is often garnished, though there are two beautiful scrims with aerial views of London. The musical direction, by Kevin Farrell, is very sensitive. (It is not Farrell's fault that the show, like too many nowadays, is overamplified.)
If this were "My Fair Lady," these grievances might matter more. But Barrie's masterpiece had a sturdiness that transcends any production. It must have been quite astonishing when the first audience, in London in 1904, heard Peter exclaim, as his is about to vanquish Capt. Hook, "I am youth, I am joy, I am freedom!"
They had all grown up in the heyday of Queen Victoria, when being a grownup was a heavy responsibility, and his victory cry must have been wonderfully liberating.
Even in our culture, which encourages infantilism at all ages, Peter represents a spirit that is sought but not always attained, and so we still find the character appealing.
Chunky, tomboyish, uncomplicated, Rigby is youthful energy itself. She crows jubilantly. She has a hearty singing voice, fine for most of the music, not agile or high enough to the operatic duet written for Peter and Hook, which has been cut.
She acts with great conviction, espeically when she makes her impassioned plea for us to clap to save Tinker Bell's life. She is at her most persuasive when she's in the air: No one has made flying look more exhilarating.
Stephen Hanan, who has a very rich voice, is an amusing Hook; when he plays father Darling, he's a little too coy, as if he studied how to play fathers in the Paul Lynde School. Lauren Thompson makes a very affecting Mother Darling. Cindy Robinson is a winsome Wendy, and Britt West and Chad Hutchsion are strong as her brothers. Holly Irwin is a rousing Tiger Lily.
Nane the dog/nursemaid and the Crocodile in hot pursuit of Hook are well played by Bill Bateman and Barry Ramsey, respectively.
In London, "Peter Pan" used to be revived every Christmas. It is a wonderful tradition and it certainly makes a welcome addition to this holiday season in not very festive New York.
She's flying again - Peter Pan, that is. The ageless princeling of Never-Never Land, that darling of childish fantasy and middle-ages nostalgia alike, that ghost of the clinical pathology of a youth complex, is back with us on Broadway for the holiday season.
In the spunkily assertive figure of former gymnast Cathy Rigby she dropped in last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.
The production, which has been touring long and widely, and looks it, is painstakingly calculated to please children of all ages, and may well give a band to many of the less cynical of them.
But when any show waits for its best moment for the curtain call, where Peter, following in the steps, as it were, of Sandy Duncan in the musical's 1979 revival, actually flies out into the auditorium, it might be thought to be in some degree of trouble.
This musical version of "Peter Pan," celebrated in the 1954 Mary Martin/Cyril Ritchard/Jerome Robbins original, which achieved transient immortality as a TV special, has only two things wrong with it: the play upon which it is based and the music which has been added to it. Robbins and the original players, not to mention Duncan and George Rose subsequently, somehow manages very narrowly to avoid the third strike.
J.M. Barrie's mawkish Edwardian nursery tale of the little boy who could never grow up, and Oedipally yearned for some lost mother, has become an unclassifiable classic, and were it to be stylishly presented it might be seen to have a patina of period charm. But not in these brash circumstances.
The music, mostly by Moose Charlap, later to be resposible for the legendary flop "Kelly," generally brings a new kind of distinction to the word "undistiguished," although I suppose Charlap's "I'm Flying" together with "Neverland" and "Hook's Waltz," both contributed by Jule Styne, with persuasive Betty Comden and Adolph Green lyrics, all brought in to doctor the original, achieve a certain pleasingly efficient mediocrity.
The present scenery and costumes manage to look cheap, even if they were not, and the level of Fran Soeder's direction proves even but low. The choreography by Marilyn Magness is not so much unmemorable as unnoticeable.
Which brings us to Cathy Rigby - who flies through the air with no-nonsense athleticism and, in this castly overamplified production, sings boldly, accurately, and with a touch of that trace of charming huskiness which was a Mary Martin trademark.
So far so moderately good, but unfortunately Rigby, while engaging in her enthusiasm, is charmless in her personality. She also lacks that androgynous grace (neither masculine, nor feminine, nor neuter) which Barrie stole like a shadow from the "principal boys," always played by women, of English traditional pantomime, and was once admirably displayed by Martin and Duncan.
The rest of the cast, apart from Stephen Hanan's overripe but decently villainous Captain Hook, is routine.
I suspect that those who will enjoy this production are those who believe in fairies with a very particular fervor.
"Peter Pan" is the musical that never grew up. It is locked in a time warp in which children can dream about breaking loose from their families and searching for lofty adventure, and adults can feel nostalgic about their lost dreams of childhood. When Peter Pan persuades Wendy and her brothers to fly with him to the world of the Lost Boys -- in a Jerome Robbins aerial ballet -- children in the audience may feel a similar surge to the open windows of experience.
For many, the musical will continue to serve as an initial exposure to the theater. This is in spite of the work's defects, which include an opening half-hour of exposition that may lull children (and adults) into thinking about other matters; a depiction of an insufferably patriarchal society, and a stage load of stereotypes and sentimentalities.
"Peter Pan," which began a limited engagement last night at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in a production starring Cathy Rigby in the title role, is not a musical classic. But as a theatrical fairy tale it seems to be perdurable, and there is enough entertainment value to make it an appropriate holiday diversion, at least for the very youngest members of the audience.
What it needs to fly is a magical central performance, such as it received from Mary Martin (in the original Broadway version and on television) and from Sandy Duncan in the Broadway revival in 1979. In both cases, the show was elevated by the force of a star's personality, which did not soften the character's edges but made him seem like the kind of natural scamp one would follow straight on till morning.
Ms. Rigby, a world-class gymnast turned actress, has stage presence and a pleasant singing voice and, as one might expect, her physical capability in flight exceeds that of her predecessors. Maneuvered on wires by Flying by Foy, those masters of aerial theatrical engineering, she soars high above the stage, back and forth, in dizzying patterns that would dismay actresses without her gymnastic training.
On the ground, she is a resolute down-to-earth Peter, and it is a long delay between flights. She does not inspire wonder, and although that may sound like an elusive attribute, it is essential in projecting a Peter Pan in all his fantastical dimensions. When Ms. Rigby sings "I've Got to Crow," one vividly remembers Mary Martin's joyful cry (at this point, Ms. Rigby's voice sounds dubbed or, at least, overamplified). When she asks the children in the audience to applaud and re-energize Tinker Bell's fading wattage, the charge seems more that of a team captain than charismatic conjurer.
Still, the children at the preview matinee on Wednesday applauded, and Tinker was rescued once more. As an act of faith, the belief in fairies apparently extends to anyone playing the title role.
Even in its earliest incarnation, the show was an unsettled combination of ingredients, an uncredited adaptation of James M. Barrie's original play and songs (and additional songs) by a quintet of composers and lyricists. The seams in the score show, just as they do in the book. It is a long step down from lilting songs like "Neverland" (by Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne) and "I'm Flying" (by Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap) to "Ugg-a-Wugg." This is a show in which one looks forward to every reprise. One might say that the musical seems best when excerpted.
Stephen Hanan offers a broad, lip-smacking impersonation of Captain Hook, the hammiest of Hooks, which is not necessarily unsuitable. He is far less comfortable in the role of Mr. Darling, who in his hands seems too much a villain of the nursery. Tear off his paternal disguise and there would be Captain Hook. Lauren Thompson and Cindy Robinson are on a more even keel as Mrs. Darling and Wendy. Neither overplays the confectionary content of their roles. Children should also be amused by fluffy Nana, the dog as nanny, and the ticking crocodile.
The scenery (uncredited except for James Leonard Joy's cluttered Neverland) is serviceable. Fran Soeder's production is a reconstitution rather than any attempt at reinvention. This version is for traveling, which the show has been doing around the United States for the last year.
Were Mr. Robbins to have selected a second dance from the musical to include in his recent choreographic collage, "Jerome Robbins's Broadway," he would have found it exceedingly difficult. The flying ballet is a clear first choice. The other dance numbers seem to consist mostly of pirates and Indians jumping around in clusters. The portrait of Indians, which includes a simulated scalping, is one that should not endear itself to admirers of Kevin Costner's "Dances With Wolves."
Actually, it is another current movie that comes to mind while watching "Peter Pan," and that is "Home Alone," in which Macaulay Culkin fulfills his fantasies without benefit of a Peter Pan. His attitude is not so distant from that of the Lost Boys, who have fallen from their prams and have then discovered a life unencumbered by parental guidance. It is that feeling of childlike independence and disrespect that gives "Peter Pan" -- the original story and play as well as the musical -- its resilience.