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Rigby's 'Peter Pan' is a timeless joy

Now that Michael Jackson has called his ranch Neverland, and kids have Game Boys, iPods and cell phones, and the nightly news is more violent than Captain Hook's pirate ship, you'd think Peter Pan would have grown old.

Not so, judging from this week's show in Shea's Performing Arts Center.

This sweet old musical, which famously starred Mary Martin in the 1950s, pulled in all ages on its opening night. Adults attended in couples and in groups. And kids showed up in droves. Girls were dolled up in ribbons and bows. One little boy sported a red pirate coat.

The crowd was entranced even by such arcane British lines as "Can we still be respectful subjects of King George?" and, "A holocaust of children -- what a grand thought!" (That was Hook, as if you couldn't guess.) Maybe Harry Potter has helped prime kids for this kind of thing. In any case, the show's timeless appeal is a marvel.

Another marvel is gymnast Cathy Rigby, as Peter Pan.

It's tough enough to win multiple Olympic gold medals. It's even more remarkable, in your 50s, to portray so convincingly a little boy.

Rigby pulls it off.

She has played Peter Pan since 1988, but even so, watching her in the role is endlessly fascinating. Rigby fidgets, preens and parades, leapfrogs, turns perfect cartwheels, flips upside down and projects an appropriate ornery vulnerability. And, oh yes, he -- I mean she -- flies. Even when you glimpse the string holding her up, the graceful, natural way she moves and lands makes the stunt real.

Complete with a dandy little orchestra, "Peter Pan" is a fast-moving, brightly colored production. The sets are stunning. Pirates and Indians jump out at you in bright reds, greens and yellows.

The dancing is as good as in any show I've ever seen. The lithe dancer who plays Tiger Lily, the Indian maiden half in love with Peter, is a special delight with her endless aerobics. She is played by Lauren Masiello.

The musical numbers, by Jule Styne with lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, have held up extremely well. "I Won't Grow Up" is a big, bouncy highlight, and the beautiful "Never Never Land," a wistful ballad in the great tradition of "Over the Rainbow" and "When You Wish Upon a Star," anchors the show with a sweet nostalgia.

This tale needs a good Hook, and we've got one in James Clow. (In one of the show's many Freudian twists, he also plays Mr. Darling, the father of John, Michael and Wendy.) Clow has a magnificent, resonant baritone, and he's not afraid to use it. His boastful "Hook's Waltz" rocked the house.

As for the little Darlings, they bring sweetness to their rather passive roles. Your heart goes out to Wendy when, pensive in her billowing pink nightgown, she asks: "Peter, what are your exact feelings for me?"

Good question. It's funny how Wendy and Tiger Lily are competing for the same boy, and how poor Peter's perplexed by both of them. "Tiger Lily is the same," he reflects. "There's something she wants to be to me, but it's not my mother."

The Saint Bernard, the curtain call, Tinkerbell -- I could go on.

Just one bittersweet note: This is Rigby's farewell tour. She's hanging up the pixie dust forever. It's too bad she has to grow up.

Let's not let it happen to us.



>Theater Review

Peter Pan

Review: 4 stars (out of 4)

Musical starring Cathy Rigby. Runs through Sunday at Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.Tickets, $22.50 to $55 at the Shea's box office, Ticketmaster or

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