The press materials for the musical "Peter Pan" at La Mirada Theatre ballyhoo the notion that "Cathy Rigby IS Peter Pan." No one who is fortunate to see Rigby in her current engagement--the first leg of an extensive national tour--will protest the point.
It's hard to imagine anyone who is more distinctively the physical embodiment of Sir James Barrie's classic character than Rigby. A sinewy sprite who twirls through the air with breathtaking abandon, former Olympic champion Rigby is an eerily elfin presence, cackling with throaty laughter, hopping on one foot in a transport of boyish glee at any opportunity for adventure--or mischief. The perfect urchin, Rigby personifies the spirit of childhood as few before her.
The musical as a whole has been effectively reimagined by director Glenn Casale, who daubs its primary palette with darker hues than is typical. Casale realizes that any childhood entertainment must address not only the child's sense of silliness, but also the dawning realization of life's awful impermanence. In Casale's version, Peter's recollection of his attempt to return home to a mother who no longer wants him resonates with unaccustomed truth.
Paul Schoeffler's revisionist Captain Hook also brings new levels of emotional resonance to what often has been largely a camp turn. Not that Schoeffler isn't capable of twirling a hanky with the best of them, but he finds levels of real menace beneath Hook's comic foppery. Additionally, Schoeffler is the best Mr. Darling in memory, forging a believable relationship not only with his children Wendy (Elisa Sagardia), Michael (Paul Tiesler) and John (Michael LaVolpe), but also with his wife (the particularly radiant Barbara McCulloh).
A technically daunting show, "Peter Pan" requires a rigorous degree of stagecraft amply supplied by this crack design team. John Iacovelli's wonderful sets have the quirky and surreal details of Tenniel illustrations. Shigeru Yaji's splendid costumes range from the opulent to the ragtag. Lighting designer Martin Aronstein casts a rich glow on the whole, although he occasionally takes the directorial injunction for darkness a bit too literally, leaving key moments underlit. However, one suspects that this may have been the result of opening weekend jitters in a tech-heavy show, in which Francois Bergeron's excellent sound design also suffered its share of miscues.
Short of these few glitches, all other elements are seamless. Craig Barna's musical direction is excellent, and Patti Colombo's terrific choreography, based on Jerome Robbins' original staging, soars. So, literally, do the marvelous flying illusions by ZFX Inc., new kids on the block who have taken over the duties usually assumed by the venerable Flying by Foy team.
Consider "Peter Pan" a holiday hors d'oeuvre, a Proustian tidbit guaranteed to rekindle memories of your own childhood. For a special treat, see it through the fresh eyes of a child you love.
Cathy Rigby: Peter Pan
Paul Schoeffler: Captain Hook/Mr. Darling
Elisa Sagardia: Wendy/Jane
Michael Nostrand: Smee
Barbara McCulloh: Mrs. Darling/Grown-up Wendy/Mermaid
Susan Lamontagne: Liza/Tiger Lily
Paul Tiesler: Michael Darling
Michael LaVolpe: John Darling
A McCoy Rigby Entertainment/Nederlander Organization/La Mirada Theatre production. Music by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne. Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and Betty Comden and Adolph Green. Adapted from the play by James M. Barrie. Directed by Glenn Casale. Choreographed by Pati Colombo. Musical director Craig Barna, with additional arrangements by Barna, Kevin Farrell, Brian Tidwell, M. Michael Fauss. Sets by John Iacovelli. Costumes by Shigeru Yaji. Lights by Martin Aronstein. Sound by Francois Bergeron. Flying by ZFX Inc. Wigs by Robert Cybula. Production stage manager Michael McEowen.
"Peter Pan," La Mirada Theatre, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada. Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 and 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Ends Nov. 23. $33. (562) 944-9801. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. Also in San Diego (Dec. 30-Jan. 4; Civic Auditorium), Palm Desert (Jan. 5-6; McCallum Theatre) and next summer in Hollywood (July 28-Aug. 9; Pantages).