by Hedy Weiss
When: Through Feb. 10
Where: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph
Info: (800) 775-2000; www.BroadwayInChicago.com
Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission
When it comes to eternal youth, Peter Pan can't hold a candle to Cathy Rigby.
At the age of 60, the Olympic gymnast-turned-Broadway star is still in sensational shape, flying high in green tights and tunic. In real life she may have a husband, four children and a major theatrical business (she is among the producers of the show). But just attach this petite, impossibly agile, wholly fearless woman to a couple of wires and she might as well be a test pilot trying out some new supersonic jet. Rigby is nothing short of amazing.
Watching her take off in her latest edition of "Peter Pan," now at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is enough to send your heart soaring almost as high as she does. No one takes to the sky with more passion and delight, whether spinning high into orbit, careening into every corner of the stage or soaring up to the balcony with total abandon. And when not airborn, Rigby can be found somersaulting, cartwheeling, doing handstands, leaping onto a fireplace, racing across a pirate ship's deck and singing in an appealingly smokey voice.
The show itself -- with its ever-charming score by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne (music), and Carolyn Leigh and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics) -- has the energy and broadness of a grand-scale English panto. Rigby's grand flights in the first act are wild and beautiful enough to bring tears to your eyes. But beyond that, this handsomely designed show -- directed by Glenn Casale, and energetically choreographed by Patti Casale -- never fully captures the heartbreak in Sir James Barrie's story.
Missing is the hint of real sadness and confusion in the boy so terrified of becoming a man, and the frustration in Wendy, the teenage girl who aches to have him respond to her as a woman. Nor will you find the deep ruefulness so crucial to the final scene, when Peter returns from Neverland after many years and finds a truly grown-up Wendy.
The show's opening scene is well done -- as Mrs. Darling (the lovely Kim Crosby) worries about leaving her children for a night out, and tends to her quintessentially Victorian English husband, Mr. Darling (Brent Barrett), a wholly self-involved, quite infantile man. Of course Mr. Darling will later morph into the similarly self-involved and self-aggrandizing Captain Hook, the pirate forever on the run from a crocodile with an internal clock and a taste for his blood. Barret has campy fun in both roles, though sometimes Hook gets lost amid all the hubbub.
James Leo Ryan has some winning moments as Hook's nervous assistant, Smee, and the idea of casting the pirates as an international brigade of brigands is inspired, with the formidable Michael E. Shepperd particularly threatening as Starkey.
Jenna Wright, who plays Tiger Lily, has a ballerina's body and fine circus skills (she arrives on silks), but she is miscast in the role and has been given a dreadful wig. The Darling children are a bit short on personality, with Wendy (Krista Buccellato) too mature from the start.
To their credit, every actor on the stage has ideal diction, and not a single word is lost, whether speaking or singing. This is not a minor thing.
But really, there is only one reason to see this "Peter Pan." Rigby was born to fly, and she takes the audience with her.