Musical theater is filled with thrilling moments. Not the least of these is in PETER PAN, when Peter is trying to get the three Darling children to fly and young John finally utters the word "Christmas". Suddenly they become airborne along with Peter. The scenery whisks away, the music swells and a starlit sky appears over the misty clouds and Peter and the Darlings fly with abandon in one of Jerome Robbins' most stunning theatrical feats of choreography. With former gymnast Cathy Rigby playing Peter, there are some stunning aerial feats of derring-do as she whizzes through the stars and leads the three youngsters to Neverland. Even the most jaded theatergoer finds himself caught up in what has to be one the most exhilarating moments in the theater.
Fortunately, Cathy Rigby is bringing her acclaimed performance in PETER PAN back to New York for the Christmas season and parents and grandparents are lining up at the box office to secure tickets for their children and grandchildren. It seems that everyone wants to introduce the younger members of their families to something they felt was very special as they were growing up.
Speaking to Cathy Rigby via telephone, she sounds as youthful as she was when she first took on the role. Her vibrant personality comes through the telephone astonishingly well and there's no doubt that she's still the number one choice to play Sir James M. Barrie's Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up.
Rigby won a Silver Medal in gymnastics at the World Championships in 1970. She competed in 1972 in Munich as well, retiring shortly afterwards. "When you compete in the Olympics," Rigby explains, "your entire life is completely focused on that. I loved the Olympics. Don't get me wrong, but the pressure for going for the Olympics twice is enormous. For six or eight hours a day, six days a week you eat, sleep and drink Olympics. That's all you do. On top of that you have the pressure of proving yourself once every four years. You get to the point where you say, 'Okay, I've had enough and I'm ready to move on to something else.' Plus, I think your best years are between the ages of 15 and 19. I guess you could say that's young on one side and a little older on the other. It's young to retire at 19 but that's pretty old for a gymnast."
She may have retired at 19 but Cathy Rigby holds the honor of being the first female gymnast to receive a Silver Medal. She explains: "ABC Sports announced that I was one of the most influential women in sports, but it was about ten years ago that I was inducted into the Gymnastics' Hall of Fame and I think being one of the first American women to win a medal in world competition had a lot to do with that."
As is the case with many retired athletes, Rigby turned to sports commentary. "I didn't know how to do it but right after I retired I called Roone Arledge who was the head of ABC Sports at the time. I asked him if he needed a woman commentator or color commentator for women's gymnastics. The next thing I knew I was in Norway and happened to be in the same place where a little 14 year old girl named Nadia Komenich was--it was before her big explosion in the world of gymnastics. I worked for ABC Sports for eighteen years and did commentary for a couple of Olympics in Montreal and Los Angeles. At the same time I was studying voice and acting for many, many years. In 1989 I retired from "The Wide World of Sports" and decided to focus my career on theater."
When Rigby left gymnastics she did some episodic television appearances. "You know," she says, "a couple of 'Movie of the Week' things-mostly playing gymnasts with Russian accents. Someone said to me, 'If you like to do this, why don't you take voice lessons and acting classes?' It made lots of sense to me so I started studying pretty diligently for seven years and eventually auditioned for the role of Dorothy in THE WIZARD OF OZ in 1981. It was a production in Northern California and I got the part. I went up to the Sacramento Music Circus playing Dorothy and I felt that it was an amazing experience to be around those actors and even though I was nervous it came off well because I'd studied so hard. At that point it was just a matter of getting experience of being in front of people and singing."