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Rigby takes flight in final fantasy as 'Peter Pan'

The ageless Cathy Rigby, still flying high as Peter Pan, plays her signature role in Fort Worth this week, but she'll soon hang up her tights for good

03/25/2013 10:09 AM

03/28/2013 11:11 AM

When Cathy Rigby brings her touring production of Peter Pan to Bass Hall on Tuesday, it will be impossible to ignore the question of whether the 60-year-old former Olympian has played the title role so many times that she is now actually living it -- magically becoming as ageless as the 10-year-old boy she plays.

There are two things that should be said in answer to that unavoidable query.

First, yes, Rigby and Peter Pan are the same person. There is no other way to explain how a woman her age could fly. And the official title of this production is Cathy Rigby Is Peter Pan. So there.

And secondly, who can blame her for clinging to the lovable imp she began portraying in 1974?

"We have to be adults most of our lives. But for those two hours, you become a child, with all the mischief and joy, and not editing how you are or how you should be," said Rigby, who competed in gymnastics at the 1968 and 1972 Olympics before taking to the musical stage. "It's great therapy. I'm going to miss it when I have to leave it."

And that date is near. Rigby said the final performance of this tour in Boston on April 28 will be her final turn as Peter Pan.

"It is the last show I will do. I have to turn it over to somebody else now."

But don't think that she's leaving the role because it has become stale to her.

"There are so many different ways to play Peter Pan," said Rigby, who began studying singing and acting shortly after her Olympics run. "I have learned more as an actor doing this role than any other. The more I get out of my way, the more you allow that child to come out, and the more fearless you are, the more fun it is to play it."

And Rigby can be fearless about the substantial physical demands because she found a coach with some unlikely credentials to prepare her for this tour, which began 18 months ago.

"I got myself a trainer who happened to an ex-Marine, and who worked a lot with Pilates," said Rigby, who does a half-hour of stretching before each performance.

And the combination of all that tough-guy preparation and years of experience has allowed Rigby to find a new level of comfort with Peter.

"I think the role has changed for me in terms of the ease I have with it now," said Rigby, between shows at the tour's stop in Bowling Green, Ky. "I've never missed a show. I feel better than I ever have."

She has no immediate plans after this tour ends, but nor is she retiring.

"I look forward to being home," said Rigby, who lives in the Los Angeles area, where she and her husband, Tom McCoy, have a theater and performance school. "I've been on the road quite a bit for the last three years, and I look forward to being in one place.

Rigby, who has done other shows such as Steel Magnolias, The Wizard of Oz and Annie Get Your Gun, said she would love to continue in theater, and do television and film work.

But before she does any of that, she will fly around Bass Hall one last time. And when she does, she (and we) will be 10 years old again.

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