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It’s time to leave Neverland

Cathy Rigby hangs up her harness after 15 years as Peter Pan

Hillsdale Chiropractic

When Cathy Rigby unhooks her harness for the last time Sunday she brings to a close her run as the boy who refused to grow up in the musical “Peter Pan.” Former gymnast Rigby has been flying from a wire on and off since 1991, and she’s been loving every minute of her last West Coast swing.

The showbiz trouper is based in Southern California, but it’s not like she’s missing her family: Her daughter, Theresa McCoy, plays Jane, one of the Lost Boys; four other relatives are involved in the production including her hubby, producer Tom McCoy; and she is future mother-in-law to Kent Flemming, the master electrician.

The show itself is the ultimate in family entertainment, combining the bizarre world of children’s fantasy with the sentimental nostalgia adults have for childhood.

Audiences, she says, consist of people ages 5 to 80. “You get a lot of people who saw it as a child, and now they’re bringing their kids,” says Rigby, 53, by telephone. Then there’s the subset of dads who are there reluctantly but end up blubbering or cheering. “I love it when the big kids have fun,” Rigby says.

The story is of Peter Pan, a boy who refuses to grow up. He has one emotion, gladness, repressing every other emotion. He hangs around in Neverland with the Lost Boys, fighting the pirate Captain Hook.

Peter invites Wendy Darling to Neverland to be a mother for the Lost Boys. Wendy’s brothers come, too, and their adventures include the near death of the fairy Tinker Bell. In the end Wendy goes home to grow up, but Peter stays in Neverland.

Rigby says she still gets a kick out of meeting audience members after a show, particularly the kids.

“One time I met this boy; he was 12 years old, real street-smart, not the kind you would think believes in fairies,” she says. “A few weeks after, I get a letter from him saying, ‘I know you’re not really a boy, but I’ll leave my window open in case you want to take me to Neverland.’ ”

Older boys usually want to meet Tiger Lily because she’s hot.

“I’ve even had some goths come up and meet me after a show,” says Rigby, as if further proof that the story touches the American psyche were unnecessary. (The large number of spinoffs, prequels, sequels and adaptations since author J.M. Barrie’s death in 1937 also speaks volumes.)

Children are given a book in which to write comments while they are waiting in line to meet Rigby. “A lot of them write, ‘I wish I could fly,’ or ‘Please take me away to Neverland,’ ” she says. Rigby points out that when asked, kids don’t dream of, say, being homeless or incapacitated when they grow up. “That optimism is the difference between adults and children.”


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