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Cathy Rigby still in top flying form as Peter Pan

Entering a performance of "Peter Pan" at the cavernous Theater at Madison Square Garden, you may find yourself wishing that you, too, could fly.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Entering a performance of "Peter Pan" at the cavernous Theater at Madison Square Garden, you may find yourself wishing that you, too, could fly.

Because that might be the only way to get to your seat on time. At a recent matinee, there was such a bottleneck of families waiting in clogged aisles to get to their seats in front sections that theatergoers were reduced to snarling at each other. The lights went out, the show started, and parents juggling kids and hot dogs were still trying to get seated.

That's only one problem posed by the huge space that this perennial classic is now occupying, the New York stop on a national tour that launched in August. Only people seated close to the stage (once they get there) will be able to enjoy the facial expressions of the actors, led by the eternally young Cathy Rigby, still great fun to watch more than two decades after her Broadway debut in the role.

That's too bad, but this "Peter Pan," directed by Glenn Casale, is still an enjoyable experience for young children, and a show so rich in tradition — dating back to the 1954 Mary Martin production — that all kids should see it.

The only question is at what age. I must report that the 8-year-old critic I brought along rather curtly professed the flying in "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark" to be "20 million times better." However, the younger children in front of us seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

As for us adults, let's just say to Rigby, still performing aerial dives and back flips, splits and cartwheels at age 59: "You go, girl!"

Rigby's in such good shape, we'd pay good money to see her take on the Green Goblin in an aerial fight anytime. No matter that the Olympic gymnast-turned-actress had a "farewell" tour in the role six years ago. She'll make you feel so much better about getting older, you might forget about the crowds and the money you'll spend on cotton candy, popcorn and soda.

Rigby's Cockney accent comes and goes, but she has an appealing, husky singing voice, which suits her character well in spunky songs like "I've Gotta Crow" and "I Won't Grow Up" — songs she's sung onstage literally thousands of times.

As for her onstage nemesis, Tom Hewitt gives an entertaining performance as Captain Hook (he also plays Mr. Darling) but comes up a little short on the sinister side. Sure, parents will appreciate Hewitt's appealing comic timing, and lines like "Split me infinitives!" But for the kids, it seems, he could be a little less good-natured and a little more, well, scary. (He does get a nice reaction when he growls at the booing kids: "Oh, grow up!")

Most of Rigby's flying occurs within the confines of the stage, but at curtain call time, she flies out into the audience, thrilling one and all. At that moment, even my grouchy little critic had a broad smile.

You can get a kid to love Peter Pan as much as Peter Parker. Just believe.