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Cathy Rigby Flies Back to Neverland

The star of Peter Pan discusses her iconic role as the boy who won't grow up. logo
Cathy Rigby in Peter Pan
(© Craig Schwartz)
Olympic gymnast and Tony Award nominee Cathy Rigby is currently on a two-year national tour of Cathy Rigby is Peter Pan, which includes a holiday season stop at The Theater at Madison Square Garden, December 14-30. TheaterMania chatted with Rigby about playing the boy who won't grow up and her journey with this production.

THEATERMANIA: Why did you want to play Peter Pan again?
CATHY RIGBY: I missed it and I love it. The main reason is because I work with a charity called Discovery Arts and I was doing events with them -- signing autographs, taking pictures, giving fairy dust to children, and I began listening to stories that people were telling me about the show. You had many different generations talking about Peter Pan. It's this memory-making moment, which I got to be a part of. I was very happy and wanted to do it again. I know how the audience feels and I can look at it from a different perspective.

TM: Do you think you were born to play Peter Pan?
CR: Probably! I remember my coach saying, "Cathy isn't afraid to try anything." It's in Peter's DNA that he acts fearless. On stage, you can do anything. It reminds me so much of my gymnastics. I have two strong guys that help me with the flying.

TM: What do you love about this character?
CR: I love his belief that anything is possible. He is direct and honest, even if it isn't right. I love when I get to take a whole new group on this adventure. Everyone takes on a playful spirit. It's hard to play children, as an adult. You have this youthful energy and it is fun to be around.

TM: How do you keep the role fresh for you and for audiences?
CR: Playing a role for a long period has given me much more freedom to be spontaneous. Depending on my mood each day, I can do something different. There are so many elements in this show, and they all work.

TM: Are adults falling in love with Peter Pan?
CR: There is a sentimental quality in the show. All of us look back and remember certain moments -- how we thought and felt. This takes them back to their childhood.

TM: What is your favorite part of the musical?

CR: The opening scene, because of the flying and the introduction of the characters when Peter is at his most mischievous. It's a fast-paced getting-to-know-you scene.

TM: You have worked with many different casts. Do you find that challenging?
CR: When you add somebody new, they have to evolve into the role and you need to trust them. You can't expect them to do what the last actor did. They need to find their place and you can't tell them what to do. Something always works. Most of the time, they bring something new to the production and I love it.

TM: This is a physically demanding role. How did your previous life as a gymnast help prepare you for this?
CR: The older you get, the more you realize that you have to prepare. I'm not 20 years old. It's an easy show to get injured in. You have to do the little tiny things to make it look exact and effortless. It's not a show you can just jump into. When you are training for gymnastics, you learn to pay attention to detail. The same applies here.

TM: It wasn't until after you retired from gymnastics that you started taking music and acting classes. What sparked your interest?
CR: I was doing episodic television and someone told me, if you like this, why don't you take classes? I did, and studied for seven years. After three years, my voice was getting better. I was very surprised at where I was. If you work at it, you will improve. My first stage role was Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz; that's where I fell in love with theater.

TM: What is your favorite thing about New York during Christmas time?
CR: Everything! I love the buzz in the city. We have cast so many shows, and so many people have come out of New York. It's great to reconnect with that community. It's a different energy. Everything is so close in proximity. You can grab a sandwich at 2am or go to Joe Allen's and see Meryl Streep eating dinner.

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