Twirling athletically on high as she spreads her handfuls of fairy dust, and flopping to earth in a gymnastic position that would have given even the ever-game Mary Martin pause, Cathy Rigby continues to make a brash and appealing Peter Pan in the new staging of the 1954 musical now making a holiday visit to Broadway. The tale about the boy who refused to grow up has its own ageless charm, and this widely toured production doesn’t attempt to wring any new variations on it. It’s content to serve up a traditional aesthetic that probably plays best in the ‘burbs, where its theme-park-ride stylings won’t be sniffily compared to “The Lion King” by dangerously theater-savvy tykes.
It’s not the look of the show but its length that poses problems for some of today’s kids, whose continued attention depends on frequent commercial breaks. Midway through the second of three acts, the antsy clatter of plastic pirate swords ($7) could be heard, and a plaintive wail — “I want to go home!,” from a tormented young soul in row D — stole the thunder from the Darling kids onstage, who had to repeat the sentiment a quarter of an hour later in a far less gripping manner.
If the latter two acts also try the patience of more mature audiences, the first is still purely delightful. The ex-gymnast Rigby has been airborne in the role on and off for 22 years, and first took the title role to Broadway in a 1990 revival, but she never seems to be going through the paces as she charms the Darling children and the audience with her tough-talking, good-hearted attitude. Her affection for the role seems freshly minted, and her exuberant singing is winning. The show really takes wing whenever she does.
Doubling, in traditional fashion, as the stuffed-shirt Darling dad and the mustache-twirling Capt. Hook, Paul Schoeffler is deliciously overripe when needed, which is most of the time. The Darling children — Elisa Sagardia as Wendy, Chase Kniffen as John and Drake English as Michael — are fresh-faced and suitably adorable, although their strenuous English accents are sometimes more amusing than comprehensible. (The tale’s storybook London setting is about as earthbound as Neverland anyway, so they could easily be dispensed with.)
Patti Colombo’s new choreography is peppy and largely pleasing, and doesn’t leave you pining for Jerome Robbins’ original, as another recently arrived revival does. The big whoop-up is “Ugg-a-Wugg,” a rollicking romp for Lost Boys and Indians that shows Colombo’s learned a thing or two from Tommy Tune, Susan Stroman and even “Stomp.”
Perhaps to keep down costs for a traveling production, this version is rather thin on Lost Boys, Pirates and Indians, with the cast totaling a little over 20 compared to the original’s near 40. The kids certainly won’t notice, since John Iacovelli’s sets and Shigeru Yaji’s costumes provide plenty to distract the eye if nothing to fire the imagination. That, indeed, sums up the whole production, which is as polished and professionally pleasing as can be, but only magical when Rigby’s eager Peter is on the wing.