Thursday, February 07, 2013

Though Rigby Still Soars, ‘Peter Pan’ Doesn’t Quite Hook -- ChicagoTheater Review

Theater Review

Peter Pan
Cadillac Palace Theatre, Chicago
Thru February 10

I have never grown up … with a pronounced affinity for, nor aversion to, Peter Pan. Though the character, stories by JM Barrie, the Disney animated film and even the musical all somehow wove through my childhood, my most ingrained recollection is of Peter Pan peanut butter (and even that I like less than Skippy).

As a Broadway in Chicago subscriber since 2001, I attended a ‘Cathy Rigby Farewell Tour’ performance of the musical in 2005—which I didn’t quite love. Now, the indefatigable Rigby is once again back in the role she literally owns. Not only is Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan the show’s official title, but she and her husband are the sole owners of the entire touring production.

While the excellent 2004 film, Finding Neverland—about how Barrie came to create Peter, Wendy, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, etc., albeit a bit fictionalized—has added to any childhood fascination with the world of Neverland, all of the above is to explain that I entered the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Tuesday without any particular sense of anticipation.

I left it impressed by how deftly a 60-year-own woman embodied a prepubescent boy who will never grow up—Rigby has now played Peter for nearly 40 years—and performed numerous high flying acrobatics, but was reminded that from an adult perspective, Peter Pan is not a first-rate stage musical.

Rigby remains a spry, engaging performer who clearly owns the role in a figurative sense as well. The former Olympic gymnast, who seems—aptly—eternally young, is the principal reason to see this production, which would likely be a good bit lesser with an anonymous touring Peter.

And there are definite charms beyond Rigby and others taking flight, between Barrie’s inspired ode to childhood imagination, a full-scale Equity staging—Broadway vet Brent Barrett makes for a powerful Hook—some delightful songs (“I’m Flying,” “I Won’t Grow Up”) and the deftly-danced “Ugg-a-Wugg” production number that opens Act II.

I can imagine that pre-teen children may really like Peter Pan, as well as more sentimental grown-ups and possibly even musical theater neophytes (although the twenty-something women in front of me were texting throughout Act I and left after it).

But despite the original 1954 Broadway musical—which starred Mary Martin—being conceived, directed and choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins in collaboration with notable songwriters, as a composite piece of entertainment, Peter Pan fails to congeal into something magical.

It is far too talky for the first half-hour, there are too many songs that are only so-so and while the whole Lost Boys vs. Pirates, Captain Hook vs. Peter Pan episodes are mirthful, the somewhat disjointed narrative never really ensnares me.

This doesn’t mean I felt happy, or validated, to see a half-empty balcony or patrons leaving at halftime. Whatever the show’s flaws, it has obviously been beloved for many years, and Rigby is to be commended for employing a large Equity cast and full orchestra in taking Peter Pan on the road once again.

In the realm of family entertainment, the wholesome value of Peter Pan is no fairy tale. I realize I am not the target demo for this show and certainly would not dissuade anyone from bringing their kids. They could, and likely do, see a lot worse.

It’s just that I’ve seen a lot better.

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