Leon Worden

Artistry in motion: Rigby is Pan-tastic at Pantages

By Leon Worden
Friday, August 7, 1998

un, don't walk, to the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood to see Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan. Kids of all ages will absolutely love it.

The two-week engagement ends Sunday, August 16, so hurry. Shows are nightly except Monday, with weekend matinees, on this leg of a national tour that ends on Broadway at Christmas.

From the moment she bursts through the window with a terrific 10-point landing on stage, Rigby is sheer artistry in motion. The sweetheart of the U.S. gymnastics team in Mexico City (1968) and Munich (1972), Rigby is certainly the most limber Pan you could hope for. She makes full use of her athletic prowess to give Pan that extra little twist, be it a well-placed body movement to accentuate a punch line or a rollicking tumble through the air into a second-floor alcove.

It's easy to see why Rigby's 1991 portrayal of Pan on Broadway earned her a Tony Award nomination. She's funny, mischievous, delightful, and she really knows how to belt one out. Whether she's cackling like a crow or leading the Lost Boys in a rousing chorus of "I Don't Want to Grow Up," her voice is melodious and strong.

Hollywood's elite "did" opening night, with kids and grandkids in tow. They laughed, cheered, jeered and shrieked at all the right moments, and if this discriminating crowd liked it, your kids will, too. Your small ones will mistake Rigby for a boy, as they should; you won't, and you won't care.

Act I is all Rigby. That isn't meant to shortchange the children, especially Drake English, who at age 6 is quite the little actor. With an elaborate Victorian nursery as a set, the Darling children are, well, darling, the way they flail their arms and legs in their first attempt at flight.

But Rigby's landings are so smooth, you can't tell when she's off the wire. She even throws in a parallel-bar-type walk along a stairway bannister, just in case you forgot who she is. The suddenness and grace of her scene-ending pirouettes through the sky take your breath away.

Rigby puts so much into the opening act that intermission comes in just half an hour. I had hoped that when she held back during the middle of the play she was saving up for a strong finale, but no matter. The rest of the cast joins Rigby after intermission, and director Glenn Castle lets them prevail in their own right.

Broadway actor Paul Schoeffler's entrance as a tall, regally outfitted Captain Hook prompts hisses, and when the first thing he does is turn to the audience and say, "Oh, grow up," you know what direction his character is going to take. He's there to entertain.

Schoeffler uses the tremendous range of his convincing British speaking and singing voice to bring spunk and charm to Hook. Just when you expect him to get mean and scary, he interjects a disarming slapstick routine or breaks into a choreographed 1950s Hollywood song-and-dance number with the members of his pirate gang.

If this Hook and his troupe don't conjure memories of Fagan and company, with Smee (Michael Nostrand) as the Artful Dodger, then you haven't seen "Oliver!" in a while.

Lighting and fog shroud the eerie Marooner's Cove, where Pan tricks Hook into releasing the Indian maiden, Tiger Lily (Dana Solimando). Be forewarned: Your kids will cry when Hook shoots at the crocodile — not from sympathy for the croc, but because of the noise. There are two explosions in the play, if memory serves.

You'll love the Ugg-a-Wugg song. It's well choreographed (by Patti Colombo) and brilliantly executed, especially when you consider the weight and bulk of the Indian costumes. With the Hobbit-hole-like home of the Lost Boys as a set, the Indians and the boys (who are mostly girls, including Aileen Quinn, the lead in the movie, "Annie") use the entire stage as one big drum set. It's a long, demanding routine, and you'll want it to last even longer. When I saw it, the applause lasted until Rigby finally had to break it.

Rigby goes for audience participation, getting the whole house to clap to bring Tinkerbell back to life. Unlike Steven Spielberg's 1991 adaptation, Tink isn't played by a human; rather she is a montage of lighting effects. That's why it is Pan, not Tink, who flies out and sprinkles fairy dust on the audience at curtain time (but only over the pricey seats).

One final note: Your kids might not notice, but with several actors doubling up on parts, you'll appreciate the Wizard-of-Oz effect that happens when you see that Schoeffler plays both Hook and the father, Mr. Darling. Very clever.

Tickets range from $22 to $42 for 7:30 weeknight performances; $27 to $48 on Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sat. and Sun. matinees at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at all TicketMaster outlets or call (213) 365-3500. Remember: Get the good seats if you want the fairy dust.

    Leon Worden is The Signal's special sections editor.
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