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While people often think of Peter Pan as a Disney animated movie, it was originally a stage play. Not long after the Disney version, a Broadway musical starring Mary Martin opened. The show defined Martin’s career and she was well known to a generation of fans due to a videotaped television performance from the late 1950’s. However, if anyone has seen a Broadway or national touring company production of the musical in the last 15 or so years, chances are former gymnast Cathy Rigby was your Peter.
Cathy Rigby first took on the role of Peter Pan in the early 1970’s after a successful gymnastics career. She starred in a Broadway revival in 1990 and was nominated for a Tony award. Another revival she led in 1999 was nominated for a Tony as well. This revival toured the country in 2000 and was filmed at a theater in front of an audience for television broadcast on A&E.
Rigby follows the tradition of having a woman play Peter and she’s better than you might think. While her singing voice is only passable, she brings an athleticism and sense of fun that makes you forget she’s 48. The biggest mistake is having her speak with an exaggerated English accent, as do most of the other American actors. They all sound like Americans doing an accent and it’s really distracting at times. But other than that, Rigby sings, dances, and flies around in an entertaining manner. You can see that it is a role she’s played nightly for years.
The rest of the cast is also better than average. Paul Schoeffler is a menacing but at times buffoonish Captain Hook with a powerful voice. The Darling children, Wendy, Michael, and John aren’t stiff like many child actors. Although John looks like the kid from that John Ritter movie about the little brat and often smiles like a crazy person. Elisa Sagardia’s Wendy keeps her innocent nature even as men and boys of every age leer at her and ask her to be their “mother.”
While suitable for the whole family, Rigby’s Peter Pan, directed for the stage by Glen Casale, is, if not sexual, more sensual than Martin’s version. Nothing too overt, but the Indian maiden Tiger Lilly dances around in a pretty skimpy outfit and Wendy’s blossoming womanhood isn’t ignored by the mostly male Neverland inhabitants. Most of it will fly over a little kid’s head, though.
The tremendous musical numbers are staged with a lot of energy. Rigby’s thin voice aside, every well-known song and dance is delightful to watch. The only minor complaint is the use of close-ups during big dances. Since this is a filming of the stage play, the home viewer often misses the whole spectacle when the camera focuses attention on a specific performer.
If you want to see theater harness flying at its finest, while enjoying great songs capably delivered, this might be the Pan for you. It is also a good way to introduce kids to the joys of live theater. The tunes are very catchy and familiar and may generate a desire to see other musicals, in either movie or live form.
This is a re-release of the DVD, since it was released by A&E right after it appeared on television in 2000. It looks like the extras are the same, so if you have that copy, there is no reason to upgrade to this one. If you grew up watching grainy copies of Mary Martin’s television version of Peter Pan than this is a substantial upgrade. The Rigby version was shot for television so it is “full screen” but the picture and sound (so important with a musical) are very good. It might allow you to bring the musical to a child who expresses disinterest in the lower production values of a 1950’s television show.
The extras are somewhat paltry. There is a behind-the-scenes look at the show. Although Rigby is primarily interviewed, the director, producer, and choreographer are also comment. The most interesting part of the seven minute featurette is on the flying harnesses. They allow Rigby to do elaborate twirls, spins, and rolls, and the guys who operate the harnesses are shown in action.
The only other major extra is a “sing along” version of three songs from the show. “I Gotta Crow,” “I Won’t Grow Up,” and “I’m Flying” are offered. As the scene from the show plays, the words to the song are placed at the bottom of the screen so you can sing along. Once your kids learn the words by heart, this extra becomes pretty useless.
That is pretty much it for the extras other than a PSA about giving money to selected Children’s Hospitals rather than getting birthday gifts. This keeps with author J.M. Barrie’s bequest of the copyright to Peter Pan to an English children’s hospital. Despite the lack of compelling extras, the overall good quality of the actual performance make this a decent disc to own, or rent.
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