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A CurtainUp Review
Peter Pan

Production Notes
A Brief History of Peter Pan

As the lights over Wendy, John and Michael Darling's beds go out and the nursery of their London townhouse is thrown into darkness, a small light bounces across their nursery. Wendy's dollhouse is mysteriously illuminated and dresser drawers slide open and shut. And then, most mysterious of all, an unseen hand pushes the bedroom windows open and, wonder of wonders, Peter Pan comes soaring through -- and into our hearts.

Whether you're a parent, grandparent or aunt tagging along with your own little Darling, I dare you not to have a grand time at this never aging musical with its determinedly forever young hero portrayed by the seemingly ageless Cathy Rigby. The Olympic gymnast turned actress, singer and entrepreneur (the current Peter Pan is a McCoy Rigby production) flies with the greatest of ease, not just at the beginning but throughout the show and, most thrillingly right over the audience at the end. She perfectly captures Peter's boundless energy and eagerness for adventure. If her voice isn't quite on a par with her flying, it nevertheless gains altitude with such delightful standards as "I Gotta Crow", "Neverland" and the show's biggest hit, "I'm Flying."

Having at least one kid in tow is almost a prerequisite for seeing this musical. Yet, its adult appeal goes beyond the not inconsiderable pleasure of seeing the first-time watcher's open-mouthed wonder as the three siblings and Peter fly off to Neverland. The pathos reaching through this timeless fantasy insistently tugs at even the most hardened adult's childhood feelings of believing that maybe you too could learn to fly.

In many ways this splendidly re-staged, directed and performed production of Cathy Rigby's triumphant 1990/91 and 1991/92 revival more successfully achieves its goal of reinvigorating and updating a semi-classic musical than the recently revived On the Town. Betty Comden and Adolph Green's contribution to both shows holds up (they wrote all the lyrics of On the Town and lent a helping hand to Peter Pan's chief lyricist Carolyn Leigh). But the story of three sailors on leave in wartime New York City simply didn't prove as indestructible as the Darling children's adventures with Peter, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys of Neverland, pirates, Indians and the ticking crocodile.

To take this a step further, there's also the delightful choreography. Like On the Town, the musical version of J. M. Barrie's play is based on a concept by the late Jerome Robbins. On the Town scuttled the original choreography while Peter Pan's director Glenn Casala and choreographer Patti Colombo managed to give their dance routines a new sensibility. while remaining true to the Robbins' influence. This is best illustrated by the one super production number, "Ugg-a-Wugg" in which the potentially politically incorrect Indian routine becomes a terrific foot stomping, drum beating anthem of brotherhood between the lost boys and the Indians.

As Mr. Casala has found the right dance beat, he has also tapped into the darker undercurrents of the boys' yearning for a mother and the loneliness that is Peter's price for never growing up. Happily this more serious subtext in no way sacrifices the show's fun elements, which are greatly abetted by the supporting cast. Paul Schoeffler does double duty as Dad Darling and a deliciously wicked Captain Hook. He not only leers and sneers with panache but brings a booming Broadway voice to the part. Several other cast members play more than one role. Dana Solimando, for example, enters the stage as the Darling housekeeper Liza and goes on to make her mark as Tiger Lily. Elisa Sagardia, Chase Kniffen, and Drake English are fine as Wendy, John and Michael Darling respectively, with the latter particularly, well, darling.

John Iacovelli has created a handsome Victorian nursery to serve as a bookend to the colorful Neverland and pirate ship scenes. Shigeru Yaji's costume designs are equally apt for all occasions.

Tickets to this limited run show are selling like the perennial hot cakes. While Peter must fly out of the Marquis to make way for Annie Get Your Gun, the Livent organization's problems have short circuited the show's next touring stop in Canada. That means it might just move to another available house. But don't bank on rumor becoming fact . Grab your tickets now if you can.

On the Town

Production Notes> PETER PAN Or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up
A musical production of the play by Sir James Barrie
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh with additional lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Moose Charlap, with additional music by Jule Styne
Directed by Glenn Casale
Choreography by Patti Colombo
Musical direction and vocal arrangements by Craig Barna
Starring: Kathy Rigby (Peter Pan), Paul Schoeffler (Captain James Hook), Elisa Sagardia (Wendy), Drake English (Michael) and Chase Kniffen (John), Barbara McCulloh (Mrs. Darling), Michael Nostrand (First Mate Smee) and Dana Solimando (Princess Tiger Lily).
With: Aileen Quinn (Tootles), Doreen Chila (Twin), Janet Higgins (Twin), Scott Bridges (Slightly), Alon Williams (Curly), Sam Zeller (Starkey), Buck Mason (Nana/ Crocodile),, Kim Arnett, Michelle Berti, William Alan Coates, Casey Good, Randy Davis, Jeffrey Elsass, Roger Preston Smith, Tony Spinosa and Brian Shepard.
Set design: John Iacovelli
Costume design: Shigeru Yaji
Lighting design: Martin Aronstein
Sound design: Francois Bergeron
Flying illusion by ZFX
Wigs by Robert Cybula;
Marquis Theater, 1535 Broadway, at 45th Streetl (212/ 307-4100)
11/19/98-1/03/98; opened, 11/23/98
The show will return to the Gershwin Theater 4/17/99-8/29/99!
Seen 11/25 and reviewed by Elyse Sommer

A Brief History of Peter Pan
James M. Barrie's play Peter Pan rew out several chapters from his 1902 novel The Little White Bird .

The character of Peter was inspired by the five sons of Barrie's friends Arthur and Sylvia Lleweyn Davies (Mr. and Mrs. Darling in the play) whom Barrie took into his home after their parents died. As he explained in his dedication to the play "I made Peter Pan by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame." Of the five boys Peter was the one most closely linked with his fictional namesake, an identification which caused him considerable suffering. While he became a famous publisher, he died tragically -- tossing himself under a subway train.

Students of Barrie's work have also seen it as a reflection of his inability to come to grips with the death of his brother at age twelve as well as his own sexual impotence.

Barrie envisioned an actor named Beerbohm Tree as Captain Hook but Tree thought Barrie had gone out of his mind to write four acts about fairies, children and Indians. The play opened in 1904, starring the famous actress Maude Adams in the title role. After it became a hit both in London and New York, Mr. Trees admitted that he'd probably always be known as the man who had refused Peter Pan. Ms. Adams' friend and producer, Charles Frohman, thinking he was about to go down on the Lusitania, called upon Peter Pan's words from the mermaid scene to see him through his final hour: "To die must be an awfully big adventure."

Many other well-known actresses, including Eva Le Gallienne, played Peter in ensuing revivals. The many critical praises collected through the years included this from a 1918 New York Times writeup: "Peter Pan is not children at play, but an old man smiling -- and smiling a little sadly -- as he watches children at play."

The first musicalized Peter Pan came to New York in 1950 and ran for a record setting 321 performances. It starred Jean Arthur as Peter. Boris Karloff, like Paul Schoeffler, played both Mr. Darling r and Captain Hook. The music and songs were by Leonard Bernstein. At one point during this run Jean Arthur's laryngitis stirred rumors that Shirley Temple would replace her.

In 1954 the musical version composed by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne and with the Leigh-Comden-Green lyrics opened at the Winter Garden. It starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. Nine days after the show closed, it aired as a two hour NBC tonight special watched by an audience estimated at 70million people.

In 1979 Sandy Duncan flew into the Lunt-Fontanne for a 551 performance revival.

Clearly Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan follows many illustrious predecessors. As a two-time Olympic gymnast she is unquestionably the most physical Peter ever.

The Broadway Theatre Archive

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