In the role of Peter Pan for 35 years, Cathy Rigby says kids have taught her to believe. Before you venture to Neverland with Rigby one last time when the magical new production of the 100-year-old classic flies across Peabody Opera House’s stage April 2 and 3, read her reflections on the iconic story, the show's memorable moments, and what it’s like to fly over an enchanted audience, during her final tour as the boy who never grew up.
What is it like to be known as Peter Pan?
It’s like being Santa Claus. You are a part of kids’ lives, and I just hope to leave them with great memories that will keep bringing them back to the show.
Have you performed in St. Louis before?
This is my third or fourth time performing in St. Louis, but this is my first time coming to the Peabody Opera House since it reopened—I’m so excited!
Tell us about your transition from a career in gymnastics to theater?
After my gymnastics career (Rigby won an awe-inspiring eight gold medals in international competition), I trained in dance and studied voice and acting for seven years. Once I first performed in The Wizard of Oz and sang Over the Rainbow in front of an audience of about 2,000 and got through the butterflies, it was as if I found another career I loved as much as gymnastics. I found a second passion in my life. It was very thrilling, and I haven’t looked back.
Describe the new production.
Over the past 35 years, the show has evolved and changed for me personally, as well as design-wise. Now, I fly with double—as well as single—harnesses, which makes the flying twice as spectacular as it used to be. We also have a new cast of kids playing the Lost Boys, which has added another dimension to the show.
What is the most mesmerizing part of the show?
I love the opening of Neverland. It’s become more of a Cirque du Soleil performance. Tiger Lily dances and performs acrobatics on silks. It’s quite beautiful.
After all these years, how do you keep the performances fresh?
When you have worked on a piece like this for a long time, you come to know what touches the hearts of kids, as well as adults. You learn to do things differently, and I even fly better! Onstage, it’s about getting yourself out of the way and allowing this child to come through. When it becomes effortless is when it’s at its best. The heart of the show is the heart of the story and the honesty of the production. That’s why it has lasted for more than 100 years—it has resonated with people.
What do you still look forward to with each performance?
I have the best job in the world. To fly over the audience—there is nothing else like it. If I could do a curtain call like that for every show, I would. You are zooming over the audience, and they feel the wind and the fairy dust. That is one of the things I’ll miss most.
As you prepare to star in your last Peter Pan performance, what are some of your most memorable moments?
To be the spirit of this show has made me the luckiest person in the world. Some of my greatest memories are meeting people in the lobby after the shows. There are not only adults with such great memories of the show, but also kids who have inspired me, have such a passion for life and believe that anything is possible.