After playing Peter Pan an estimated 3,000 times over 20-some-odd years, one could expect Cathy Rigby to feel an ownership of the role. She does, but not to the point where she’ll only eat the brand of peanut butter that bears the character’s name.
“I eat any peanut butter I can get,” Rigby said. “I love it. Ooh, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”
The Tony Award nominee hopes her return to Oklahoma City will be equally as sweet, as she dons the harness beginning Tuesday for an eight-show string of “Peter Pan” at Civic Center Music Hall. The former Olympian first played the family-favorite role on Broadway in 1990 before retiring it in 2006, only to reverse her decision two years later.
“I wish I had some clever little answer why, but I just changed my mind,” said Rigby, now 58. “I really want to continue to be believable in it. I want to have the same energy as I’ve always had with it. I never want to compromise this role in any way, because it’s so close to me and dear to me.”
To ensure that for this current run, which began last month, she started preparations a year ago, with a regimen that included workout, dancing, voice and “much more Pilates.” The result, she said, is a “Peter Pan” that’s more physical for her than ever, including “stepped-up” choreography and a double harness to replace the single one.
I never want to compromise this role in any way.
“It hurts only for the first couple of weeks, but it’s easier on the body than gymnastic was,” she said of the contraption that allows her to soar across the stage. “It’s like a teeter-totter or a hanging roller coaster. There’s a sense of total abandonment.”
But it’s the musical’s sense of childlike wonder that keeps audiences coming back year after year. “I think the adults come to see all those moments of what they used to be like as a kid: the spontaneity, the mischief, the laughing out loud,” Rigby said. “We get careful as we get older. We all want to take that journey again. We just want to hold on to that time.”
In younger audience members, Rigby sees memories being made watching the boy who can fly, including her own grandchildren. However, that has created one problem.
“They’re probably going to need therapy,” she said, “because they don’t know whether I’m boy or a girl.”
Photo by Craig Schwarz