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Clap If You Believe in Fairy Tales

October 08, 2000|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You don't have to be a youngster to love the musical version of James M. Barrie's classic "Peter Pan." You just need to be young at heart.

In fact, it's the emotional reaction of grown-ups that always surprised Cathy Rigby, who played the boy who refuses to grow up in the recent Broadway and national tour revival of the musical by Moose Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne, and Betty Comden and Adolph Green.

"I got so many wonderful responses," says the former Olympic gymnast. "The children, of course, get caught up in it. But I think the great thing about this production is [the response] especially from the dads. The men would go, 'They brought me kicking and screaming. And you know what? It just touched me.' "

Rigby received a Tony nomination for her athletic, rough-and-tumble portrayal. The show comes to A&E Sunday as a performance taped in February at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, which is operated by McCoy/Rigby Entertainment. (McCoy is Tom McCoy, Rigby's husband, and an executive producer of the A&E special, which was directed by Gary Halvorson). Tuesday, A&E Home Video will release the video and DVD of the special.

Kris Slava, director of drama and performing arts for the cable network, says that "Peter Pan" is an unusual project for A&E. Though the network previously had presented musicals, "We don't consider ourselves as a family network."

But the minute he saw the production on Broadway, Slava knew A&E should do it. "I was such a huge fan of 'Peter Pan' when I was a kid," he says. "I felt as excited as any of the kids and how much they were getting into it."

"Peter Pan" tells the tale of the three Darling children, Wendy, Michael and John, who fly away with Peter from their London nursery to the magical Never-Never-Land, where they encounter the evil Captain Hook (played here by Paul Schoeffler) and his band of pirates, a crocodile, brave Indians and of course, Tinker Bell.

Barrie's play of "Peter Pan" was first performed in London in 1904. The beloved musical version premiered in 1954 with Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. Martin and Ritchard did "Peter Pan" live on television twice, in 1954 and '55, and then taped it for NBC in 1960. In 1980, Sandy Duncan revived "Peter Pan" on Broadway and Rigby assumed the role in the 35th-anniversary production in 1991. Rigby began flying as Peter again in 1997, traveling to 60 cities before arriving on Broadway in 1998.

What sets Rigby's performance apart from Martin and Duncan's is that she really comes across as a husky-voiced, mischievous young boy. The mother of four children, Rigby says her two sons, Bucky and Ryan, inspired her interpretation.

"I have two boys who were very Peter Pan-like as children," she says, laughing. "They were so full of the dickens. I hear some of the stories of what they did and I think I am glad I didn't know about that."

Rigby recalls her youngest daughter Katie's response to seeing her as Peter. "She said to me, 'Mommy, when I grow up. I want to be a boy, just like you.' "

Over the years, the actress has found herself identifying with different characters. "It used to be just the adventure and the spontaneity of Peter and his quirkiness, his mischievous and vulnerability," she says.

"Then it became about understanding Wendy because two of my kids are grown and out of the house. There is a part of me [who says], 'You were babies two minutes ago and you have grown up and gone out and spread your wings and gone off to Never-Never-Land. Wait a minute! Can I go with you?' "

Martin's TV versions of "Peter Pan" were all performed without an audience. McCoy, Rigby and A&E wanted to do it differently.

"With 'Peter Pan' you have got to have that live response," McCoy says. "She's an incredible flyer, and when she flies you see the audience gasping because it looks so dangerous. It's tremendously wonderful to watch."

Rigby's thrilled there's now a tape record of the role she has played 2,500 times. "It's like taking a picture of your family," she says. "You want to keep it and see it."

*

"Peter Pan" airs Sunday at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on A&E. The network has rated it TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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