Cathy Rigby first became Peter Pan in 1991, earned a Tony nomination, flew back for a 1998 revival and now makes one final spin in an uplifting Broadway-bound production. Marking the 100th anniversary of James Barrie’s classic about perpetual childhood, the show’s soaring tone matches Peter’s cry, “I’m youth, I’m joy and I’m freedom,” creating a fanciful world with just enough reality to make us identify with the hopes, fears and frustrations of its young protagonists.
After a gentle beginning that introduces the Darling children, Wendy (Elisa Sagardia), John (Gavin Leatherwood) and Michael (Greyson Spann), Peter whips through their window and whisks them off to Neverland. Rigby’s flying skills (deftly designed by Paul Rubin) are a marvel, and she briskly belts out “I Gotta Crow” and the euphoric “I’m Flying.”
Equally impressive is her depth as an actress. She lets us see the vulnerability beneath Peter’s brashness, a quality poignantly conveyed with “No one has ever touched me,” and his eagerness to have a mother different from the one that we later learn, “forgot all about me … there was another little boy sleeping in my bed.”
As Hook, Howard McGillin struts across the stage in Shigeru Yaji’s glittering red costume topped with white feathers, a hilariously narcissistic showoff who terrorizes his toadying, Uriah Heep-style sidekick Smee (scene-stealing Patrick Richwood). McGillin, demonstrating his range by also portraying Wendy’s priggish father, has the benefit of choreographer Patti Colombo’s witty tangos, tarantellas and waltzes, and he infuses them with comedic grace. Best of all, he veers from cruelty to cowardice, flinching in terror when his archenemy, the crocodile that bit off his hand, slithers onstage in bloodthirsty pursuit.
Despite a sound balance that allows the orchestra to overshadow singers too often, every song by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh — with added Jule Styne and Comden and Green numbers — is instantly engaging and singable.
Colombo’s “Ugg-a-Wug,” a rousing ensemble dance by Peter, Tiger Lily (Dana Solimando), Wendy and the boys has powerhouse punch. Director Glenn Casale masterfully sustains the breakneck pace, and his tender staging of the lullaby, “Distant Melody,” spotlighting Sagardia’s clear, lyrical voice, is one of the production’s most captivating segments.
John Iacovelli’s set pieces, from a lush Victorian home to an enchanted forest, lend magic to Barrie’s fantastic situations, and the lighting by Tom Ruzika brings flashing, flickering Tinker Bell alive.