I just noticed that Cathy Rigby stars again in “Peter Pan,” this time at Madison Square Garden through the end of the year. The advertisements proclaim “Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan” and that’s not entirely hyperbole: Mary Martin originated the role on Broadway in 1954 and won a Tony Award for her performance. Sandy Duncan starred in the 1979 revival, but the former Olympic gymnast has been Peter Pan since 1990. She reprised the role in 1998, 1999, 2004, 2005, 2008, and again this year. By the way, Rigby turned 59 shortly before this year’s run.
My audacity in mentioning a woman’s age is trumped by how impressed I am that she’s still at it. This is a physically demanding role, and Rigby delivers with boundless energy that makes you think she might actually hail from Neverland.
I worked front of house for the 1998 run at the Marquis Theater on Broadway, as well as the 1999 run at the Gerswhin. I was sporadically working concessions on Broadway back then — sort of a reserve player called in on holidays. I’m a big fan of the “Peter Pan” musical and jumped at the chance to see it live. The night before Thanksgiving in 1998, I left the theater during the climax of Act II, when Tinkerbell is dying after sacrificing herself for Peter. As I was setting up for intermission, I heard a woman ask, “Is it safe to go back in now?” I turned and saw that the woman, seated on the floor, was holding a visibly upset girl of about 7 or 8. “Sure,” I replied, as the applause from inside the theater grew louder, “the audience saved Tinkerbell. She’ll be fine.” The news clearly improved the girl’s mood, and the woman thanked me for the update.
I knew as soon as I’d heard her voice that the woman was Katie Couric, then of “The Today Show.” Her husband had died that year, which I presume had a great deal to do with her daughter’s distress. Faith doesn’t always save the ones we love, but for her sake, I was glad it had that night.