Cathy Rigby stars in "Peter Pan." (Isaac James, Pantages Theatre )
Any show created by or with the late Jerome Robbins invariably retains its magic through decades of restagings. The scruffy-looking but endearing production of "Peter Pan" that opened Tuesday at the Pantages Theatre for a two-week run is no exception.
His first show as both director and choreographer, "Peter Pan" found Robbins putting together the script from previous stage adaptations and author James Barrie's various editions and afterthoughts. He also invited Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne to supplement the songs by Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap, and gave this patchwork of words and music the sense of a complete, living world that audiences soon came to recognize as a Robbins trademark.
That was 1954. In 2013, the sets are shabby, the direction by Glenn Casale far more persuasive in the musical numbers than in the dialogue scenes, and the choreography by Patti Colombo wins more points for energy than invention.
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However, none of this really matters when Cathy Rigby is on the stage or in the air as Peter. A veteran of "Peter Pan" revivals and tours (including a video version) dating back to 1990, Rigby still channels her inner child triumphantly, with a physical bravado as brilliant as her talent for deadpan humor. Most of all, the former gymnast's speed and daring in Paul Rubin's flight choreography restate Peter's primal declaration, "I am youth, I am joy, I am freedom!" in a thrilling new dimension.
Opposite her, Brent Barrett hasn't found an especially distinctive way to play Captain Hook, but he sings powerfully, so it's a pity that his one duet with Peter has been cut. A strange hairstyle or wig disfigures the otherwise adorable Wendy of Krista Buccellato.
Among the effective cadres of parents, pirates, Lost Boys and Indians, nice individual contributions come from Michael A. Shepperd (Snarkey), Kim Crosby (Wendy Grown-Up), Clark Roberts (Nana the dog and also the Crocodile), plus James Leo Ryan (Smee, though his interplay with Hook is witlessly staged).
Bruce Barnes leads the pit orchestra efficiently.
Without negating the freshness of Rigby's performance, "Peter Pan" in 2013 is ripe for a genuine reinterpretation rather than just the amiable rehash at the Pantages.
The longing for a true sense of family — in particular the intersecting nontraditional families on Neverland — is a theme Robbins explored more than once in his musicals. And it resonates with the redefinition of societal norms in contemporary America.
Peter may champion individuality and adventure, but those values are abandoned at the end — and it would be useful and perhaps moving to see a stronger statement of the alternative.
Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 27
Information: (800) 982-2787 or BroadwayLA.org
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes
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