When Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby returns to Broadway this coming spring after its current hot-ticket holiday run, it won't just fly, it'll soar for a 19-week run.
The Neil Simon Theatre has Rigby and Co. committed for April 7-Aug. 29, 1999. Tickets went on sale Dec. 18.
According to box office data compiled by the League of American Theatres and Producers, attendance for the current run, which began Nov. 20 and continues to Jan. 3, 1999 at the Marquis Theatre, hovered at about 83 percent Nov. 30-Dec. 13, enough to encourage producers to take a leap into a return engagement.
The return run coincides with Tony Award nomination period, and there may be some question about Rigby's eligibility this year. Although actresses returning to Broadway in a previously-played role cannot be nominated again if they previously earned a nomination (as Rigby did in 1991), a spokesman for Tony managing producer Edgar Dobie told Playbill On-Line (Dec. 17) that, in theory, Rigby could be nominated again if the performance "is not substantially the same as the (previous) production."
For example, Lonette McKee was not nominated for playing Julie in the 1995 Show Boat because she had previously been nominated for the 1983 Broadway staging. However, the current staging of Peter Pan is newly directed, designed and choreographed and includes one major new sequence that observers might consider "not substantially the same" for actress Rigby: She leads the company in a percussive, Stomp-like version of the song, "Ugg-A Wugg," which neutralizes some of the Indian references of the show's score. The number is the most enthusiastically-received song in the show, despite the airborne twists in "I'm Flying."
Any questions about Tony eligibility every spring are "left to the discretion of the administration committee," said the Dobie office spokesman.
At 1,366 seats, the Neil Simon is a more intimate theatre than the 1,595 seat Marquis, putting theatregoers closer to the action in 1999.
When the musical revival of Peter Pan officially opened (after previews) Nov. 23 at the Marquis, Neverland was slightly different than in previous revivals.
Former gymnast Rigby, who has played the title role on tour for many years and appeared twice before with it on Broadway, still flew and spread fairy dust. But what's new in Neverland?
The Indian song known as "Ugg-a-Wugg" has been reinvented by choreographer Patti Colombo and director Glenn Casale. Just as it appeared on tour since November 1997, "Ugg-a-Wugg," a once potentially offensive vision of Native American culture, is now reimagined as a percussive dance (a la Stomp) involving the Lost Boys and their Indian brethren. Rigby told Playbill On-Line earlier in the year the song now has a reduced lyric (less fake native language) and more energy and physical communal spirit.
Additional changes from what fans may recall from the original 1954 script and 1960s TV staging: The song "Distant Melody" is now a duet between Peter and Wendy; there is no dance for Neverland animals; the song "Mysterious Lady," a specialty for Mary Martin in the 1954 original, has been gone from the revival for many years; the scenic design by John Iacovelli is less literal and includes fantastical images around the proscenium that suggest a rich Victorian greeting card.
Rigby played the role on tour in 1990-91 and 1991-92, bringing the show to Broadway both times. Her muscular, boyish quality and strong singing voice earned her solid reviews around the country and she garnered a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Musical in 1991 (Lea Salonga won that year for Miss Saigon).
Broadway veteran Paul Schoeffler plays the villainous Captain James Hook, Elisa Sagardia plays Wendy, Drake English (Michael) and Chase Kniffen (John) play the adventurous Darling children who leave the nest and fly off to Neverland with the boy who wouldn't grow up.
Barbara McCulloh is Mrs. Darling, Michael Nostrand portrays First Mate Smee, and Dana Solimando plays the Indian Princess Tiger Lily.
Shigeru Yaji designed the costumes and Martin Aronstein designed lighting. Craig Barna is musical director.
The cast also includes Aileen Quinn (Tootles), Doreen Chila (Twin), Janet Higgins (Twin), Scott Bridges (Slightly), Alon Williams (Curley), Sam Zeller (Starkey), Buck Mason (Nana/Crocodile), Danny Schmittler (Never bird), Kim Arnett, Michelle Berti, William Alan Coates, Casey Good, Randy Davis, Jeffrey Elsass, Roger Preston Smith, Tony Spinosa and Brian Shepard.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this Pan is that Foy is not handling the flying; ZFX is. That company's clients have included Six Flags in Fiesta, TX, Nickelodeon TV Studios, "Babylon 5," Dallas Children's Theatre and Music Theatre of Wichita.
Says Peter Pan producer Tom McCoy, "We found ZFX's approach to Peter refreshingly creative, coupled with a willingness to adapt and experiment with new ideas. Yet, ZFX provides the same measure of safety and security we experienced in the past, and which is vital to a successful production."
ZFX director of field operations Paul Rubin described the mechanics to Playbill On-Line: "Rigby hangs from a 1/16" diameter cable, like kite string, only rated at 1,000 pounds. Our system is a flying track system, used for shows like Peter Pan, Wizard Of Oz at Music Theatre Of Wichita -- anytime you need control of vertical and horizontal movement. The truss itself is 12" tall by 8" deep by 50' long and breaks into three sections. Our track is inside the truss. The harness is a nylon webbing with neoprine padding (like what scuba divers wear, thin but dense), so the weight is dispersed over a larger span. We don't use leather straps and buckles; we have quick-release snap buckles that are easier to conceal."
A CD of the newly tweaked and freshly orchestrated score (by Moose Charlap, Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne and Betty Comden and Adolph Green) was released earlier this year on the Jay label. Once the Broadway engagement ends, Peter Pan will resume its national tour.
Originally produced on Broadway in 1954 starring Martin, Peter Pan is drawn from Sir James Barrie's original 1904 play, itself based on several chapters that appeared in his 1902 novel, "The Little White Bird." Songs in the show include "I Won't Grow Up," "I've Got To Crow," "Neverland," "Distant Melody" and "Hook's Waltz."
Sandy Duncan starred in the '80 Broadway revival. The score became known to an entire generation that saw Martin in an annual TV production in the 1960's and 70's.
Peter Pan is produced by McCoy Rigby Entertainment, The Nederlander Organization and La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in association with Albert Nicciolino, Larry Payton and Lynn Singleton.
Tickets are $25-$75. For information, call (212) 307-4100.