By Tracey Dee Rauh
Managing Editor of Features
---- — When Cathy Rigby takes flight at The Wang Citi Performing Arts Center, she’ll be coming full circle in what will be her last run in a long career portraying Peter Pan.
“Our first national Broadway tour started in Boston at The Colonial and now the show is ending there at The Wang,” she said in a telephone interview in advance of the stop in Boston from April 23 to 28.
“The very first national Broadway tour was in 1989 to ’90,” she recalled. “A Boston theater reviewer who was not know for being very kind gave us a great review, which really gave us a great beginning. If it wasn’t for this review, I don’t know whether New York would have brought us in.”
Rigby, a one-time Olympic gymnast who has played the part of the boy who wouldn’t grow up for more than two decades and 3,000 performances, says this will be her last tour.
“I’ve done four, each lasting a year or two with stops in New York,” said Rigby, 60. “This is the last one and I feel like it’s honestly the best one. We’ve gotten the best reviews ever. It’s funny when you relax and enjoy and know a role so well it becomes effortless.”
The stage production of “Peter Pan” is based upon J.M. Barrie’s 1904 story probing the possibilities of eternal youth and the wonders of Neverland. Peter Pan flies through the window of the nursery at the Darling family home in London. Accompanied by his fairy, Tinkerbell, he is on a quest to retrieve the shadow he left behind on a previous visit.
Earlier in the evening, Mr. Darling banished Nana, the family pet and child care provider, outside to the dog house. The children are unhappy and that makes it a particularly prime time for Peter to entice daughter Wendy to accompany him to Neverland, where no one ever grows up and a band of Lost Boys is in need of a mother.
Brothers John and Michael tag along for a series of big adventures involving Captain Hook and his pirates, an Indian named Tiger Lily, a crocodile and several near-death experiences.
On this tour, Rigby said highlights include a new double harness that allows for much more daring flying.
“It allows me to dip and spin in ways I could never do before and that has been fun,” she said.
There’s also a Cirque du Soleil element, in which Tiger Lily does a ballet and acrobatic type of movement on the silks.
“Captain Hook is played by Brent Barrett (he doubles as Mr. Darling), and he plays the part incredibly well,” said Rigby, noting that the two did “Annie Get Your Gun” together some years back.
Rigby likes to meet adults who saw her as Peter Pan when they were children and now are bringing their children to see the show.
“These kids are used to playing video games and watching television, but they come to the theater and it’s live; they are part of the energy of the show itself and they can feel it and that is a novelty these days,” she said.
She gets to be a child right along with them.
“You know, for the rest of the day I have to be an adult and for those two hours I get to be a kid,” she said. “It includes the mischief, emotion, even the risk-taking and the adventures.”
After the curtain closes, Rigby does a meet-and-greet with youngsters.
“I sprinkle a little fairy dust in their hand and they have this joy and twinkle in their eye that they have something so magical,” she said. “The whole show does that for them: It brings back an old-fashioned innocence. I tell them to put one piece of fairy dust under the pillow at night and Peter will come and fly with them. The secret is that you go to bed on time.”
Not all children are convinced, but most are willing to give it a try.
“There was a little boy from an inner city school. His name was Marcus and he was about 12,” Rigby recalled. “We met after the show. He looked like he was standing back from everybody. I thought maybe he didn’t have a good time, so I approached him. He later wrote me a note”:
I know you are a girl and I know you have a wire on your back but just in case I’m going to leave my window opened. -- Marcus”
“It’s like being Santa Claus,” Rigby said. “I love it.”
IF YOU GO What: "Peter Pan," starring Cathy Rigby. Where: Citi Performing Arts Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston. When: Tuesday, April 23 through Sunday, April 28. How: Visit http://www.citicenter.org, or call or call (866) 348-9738.