“Snips and snails, and puppy dog tails, that’s what little boys are made of,” wrote English poet Robert Southey (1774–1843). “Sugar and spice, and everything nice, that’s what little girls are made of.”
Cathy Rigby is back in the title role of Peter Pan, flying into Sarofim Hall at the Hobby Center on December 11, a day before she turns 60.
Although she’s all sugar and spice offstage, she says, “Every night I get to be a boy! It’s great fun, one of the funnest things, to play another gender.
“Little boys are so direct and spontaneous and mischievous,” adds Rigby. “I laugh after the show whenever I hear them, very guarded at first, looking at me. Then, ‘Wait a minute! You’re not a boy. You’re a girl!’”
Like Cher, Rigby has “retired” before, with a “farewell tour” in 2004 and 2005. But the thrill of flying over kids’ heads and sprinkling fairy dust tempted her back to the role of the boy who lives in J.M. Barrie’s Neverland, where kids don’t have to grow up.
The current tour sprang from a production last summer at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts in California. Since 1994, Rigby and her husband, Tom McCoy, have produced more than seventy-five shows at La Mirada—plays, musicals, concerts, dramas, and comedies, including Rigby’s recent turn as M’Lynn in Robert Starling’s Steel Magnolias.
McCoy Rigby Entertainment also produced Broadway productions and national tours of Peter Pan and Seussical the Musical, both starring Rigby, as well as Jesus Christ Superstar, Camelot, and Happy Days–A New Musical.
Next year, the couple will co-produce, with Dallas Summer Musicals, a national tour of the 2011 Broadway musical Bonnie & Clyde. “We think it will be great,” says Rigby. “Baby boomers certainly know the story” from the 1967 movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. The musical’s score by composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel) and lyricist Don Black was nominated for a Tony Award for its combination of rockabilly, blues, and gospel music.
Rigby was born in Los Alamitos, California, on December 12, 1952. At age twelve, she began training as a gymnast, and she competed at the 1967 Olympics in Mexico City and again in 1972 in Munich. Although she didn’t medal at the Olympics, in 1970 she became the first American finalist at the world championships, and her silver-medal performance on the balance beam helped inspire a wave of popularity for gymnastics in the U.S.
Rigby ended her gymnastics career after the 1972 Olympics and studied ballet for twelve years and singing and acting for seven years. In 1981, she made her musical theater debut as Dorothy in a production of The Wizard of Oz.
“In 1979, I brought my son Buck, who is now 36, to see Sandy Duncan in Peter Pan,” says Rigby. “It was magical to me, and he loved it. It was my first time to see Peter Pan—I never saw the Mary Martin version.” Martin originated the role in the musical in the 1954 Broadway production, and she and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook performed in the 1955, 1956, and 1960 NBC-TV broadcasts of the show.
In 1990, Rigby’s bow on Broadway was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. When she rerpised the role in 1999, the show was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical.
Rigby says that as a young gymnast focused on her sport, she wasn’t aware of gay athletes. However, theater opened the door for her to a world that welcomes gays. “In the theater community, we are one big family,” she says. “Obviously, in the theater business and touring, gays are loved and accepted as the best and the brightest.”
Rigby says both a sister-in-law and a granddaughter, who’s only 15, have come out, “and life has been very accepting.”
Rigby adds, “I’m very honored that Peter Pan is associated as an icon in the gay community. We lost quite a few of our original company to HIV, and our best friend lost his partner to HIV. I’m so incredibly grateful that strides in medicine have been made, but obviously there is still much more that needs to be done.”
Rigby is active in Discovery Arts, a nonprofit organization that serves more than 3,500 sick children and their families by bringing “arts adventures” to hospitals where they are receiving treatment. “Once a week, we take art supplies and costumes and a karaoke machine, and the kids can be anything they want to be,” she explains. “Even some of our sickest children, if they are healthy enough to leave their room, come and play. We don’t find a cure for anything, but we bring joy for the moment that they’re participating.”
Like Rigby, six Houston-area girls get to “play another gender” when they appear as Lost Boys in the Houston run of Peter Pan. Three local boys were also cast in the show.
TUTS offers several special events in conjunction with the show to make for an unforgettable musical experience:
• Screening of Animated Film Peter Pan.
Monday, December 3, 7 p.m. Join TUTS for a free screening of Disney’s 1953 animated film at Sundance Cinemas, located at downtown Houston’s Bayou Place. Space is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis.
• Culture + Cuisine.
December 10–23. Dinner is served before the show. Enjoy special pricing on a set three-course meal followed by an orchestra-level seat at the show. A shuttle is available on request to travel between the partner restaurants and Hobby Center. These dinner packages are available in conjunction with all of the evening performances. For more information or to purchase a dinner package, visit tuts.com/culturecuisine or call the box office at 713/558-8887.
• OUT@TUTS Post-Show Cast Party. Thursday, December 13. A post-show, cabaret-style event at Artista Restaurant for TUTS’s LGBT friends. Visit tuts.com/out for more information.
• Season Workshop for Students.
Friday, December 14, 5–7 p.m. Join
the fun and learn musical numbers from the Humphreys School of Musical Theatre’s “Lost Boys,” straight out of the Peter Pan cast. This workshop is recommended for ages seven to twelve. Visit tuts.com/events to take advantage of this workshop.
• Breakfast with Santa.
Saturday, December 15 and 22. Celebrate the holidays with the “Peter Pan Breakfast with Santa” package. Get the day started by having breakfast with Santa at 9 a.m. at the Downtown Aquarium, followed by an all-day exhibition and ride pass to the entertainment complex. Top off the day with a 2 p.m. performance of Peter Pan. Visit tuts.com/events to purchase this package.
• Neverland Adventure Party.
Sunday, December 16 and 23. Only true adventure-seekers are invited to this VIP Adventure Party. Explore Neverland’s magical locations, hear a reading from the Peter Pan book, feast on an appetizer and dessert buffet, take pictures with members of the cast, and enjoy a VIP ticket to the show. Visit TUTS.com/events to purchase tickets.
Tickets (starting at $24) are available online at tuts.com, by phone at 713/558-TUTS (8887) or in person at the Theatre Under the Stars box office, 800 Bagby at Walker.
Donalevan Maines also writes about the new play Your Family Sucks in this issue of OutSmart magazine.