It is a fitting tribute to the memory of director/choreographer Jerome Robbins that the musical he conceived and staged on Broadway in 1954 continues to soar in this sumptuous production, which fills the Pantages Theatre with the wonder of Sir James Barrie’s timeless tale of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Director Glenn Casale, choreographer Patti Colombo and an outstanding ensemble present an inventive, energetic trip through Barrie’s world of everlasting youth , but the magic fairy dust in this show is provided by the amazingly gifted Cathy Rigby.
Premiering last November at the La Mirada Theatre, this Broadway-bound production flows effortlessly from the London home of the Darlings to the wonders of Never-Never-Land as Peter (Rigby) whisks Wendy (Elisa Sagardia), and her brothers John (Chase Kniffen) and Michael (Drake English) into his world of pirates, Indians, mermaids, fairies and the Lost Boys.
Casale never shortchanges the depth of Barrie’s original story. This tale of adventure and magic is also imbued with the sobering realization of what is gained and lost as we are forced to move so quickly through our childhood.
Rigby’s Peter not only bedevils the deliciously evil Captain Hook (Paul Schoeffler) and vainly lords it over his band of ragamuffins, but also exhibits an achingly believable sense of regret that his mother rejected him and that he can never be like other children.
Of course, the gymnastic abilities of one-time Olympian Rigby — who has played Peter in previous productions — are put to impressive use as she soars overhead (“I’m Flying”) and prances through “I Won’t Grow Up.” But her vibrant singing voice is even more memorable, as evidenced with “Neverland” and the haunting sadness in her “Distant Melody” duet with Sagardia’s Wendy.
The surprising highlight of this production, however, is choreographer Colombo’s energetic, percussion-rich interpretation of “Ugg-a-Wugg,” featuring the gifted dancing of Dana Solimando’s Tiger Lily and the startling drumming by Rigby.
Schoeffler’s Hook is larger than life, aided immensely by a powerful baritone voice that soars through such evil ditties as “A Princely Scheme” and “Hook’s Waltz.” Schoeffler also demonstrates exquisite comic timing in his ongoing slapstick pairings with Michael Nostrand as the the diminutive toady Mr. Snee. Sagardia offers a wonderfully gentle but spunky presence as Wendy, and Kniffen and 6-year-old English are just as impressive.
Enhancing this production are John Iacovelli’s sets, Martin Aronstein’s lighting, Francois Bergeron’s sound, Sigeru Yaji’s costumesand the flying illusions of ZFX Inc. Musical director/conductor Craig Barna lends balanced orchestral support.