It may seem heresy to baby boomers with fond memories of Mary Martin singing and flying on NBC, but this beautifully produced A&E restaging of the musical, starring gymnast-turned-actress Cathy Rigby, eclipses the beloved 1960 Martin kinescope in almost every way. (It’s rivaled only by the 1924 silent classic, an equally enchanting family film.)
The reworked script is both funnier and truer to Barrie’s story than the Martin version, and sets, effects, and choreography are more lavish and better done. Rigby, a fine actress and singer, may be less technically polished than Martin — but not only is Rigby, with her athletic build and tomboyish physical and vocal performance, a much more credible boy than the womanly Martin, Rigby’s spectacular acrobatics and physical exuberance elevate the role to a whole new level.
Pan’s personality is truer here as well, for Pan, though fearless and merry, is also rather heartless, having no mother to teach him otherwise. He wants Wendy for a mother, but Wendy can’t become a mother without first becoming a wife, and Pan refuses to accept her in that role. Barrie’s themes of childhood magic and selfishness and of grown-up roles and responsibility are well-served in this retelling, which includes such incidents as the kiss/thimble and Tinker Bell’s jealousy that the Martin version omits.
Tinker Bell is brought to life with laser effects and synchronized sound and physical effects far more persuasive than the star-shaped spotlight of the earlier version, and stage flying effects have greatly improved. Paul Schoffler outdoes Cyril Ritchard in both the Mr. Darling and Captain Hook roles, the children are all well-cast (most remarkably little Drake English as Michael), and Broadway dancer Dana Solimando makes a more exotic Tiger Lily than blond-tressed (!) Sondra Lee.
Barrie’s themes of childhood magic and grown-up roles and responsibility are well served, and fans will enjoy elements left out of the Martin version (e.g., Marooner’s Rock and the mermaids). Ideal entertainment for the whole family.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.