BWW Interviews: Cathy Rigby Flies Across the Country as PETER PAN
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by Kathy Strain
PETER PAN is a show that has been thrilling audiences young and old for years. The story is over 100 years old, yet it continues to attract many to see it and hear its story of lost youth and everyone's desire to never forget their own youth. Cathy Rigby is PETER PAN as it sweeps across the country with a great company. In a recent interview with Cathy, she shared with me her hopes, dreams and all the ways that she has managed to stay young as she shares her talent and passion with others.
I think it's better to start this interview by asking you …what haven't you done?
I am so incredibly blessed to do two or three careers that I could have only dreamt about as a little kid. There is nothing I want for. I am blessed and grateful. I can't tell you what I wanted to do except maybe spend a little more time in one place. Sometimes I travel a lot and I have that opportunity when I'm not on the road and it's been wonderful. But I think as far as what I haven't done I think it would be the simpler things. I love gardening, I love making things. I think down the line when I have more time to be at home, those are things that I will do. Also, if I could do it, I would run a zoo.
You seem to have done it all and you keep on going. Olympics, Sports commentator, Entrepreneur, Mother, grandmother, wife, Tell us, how did you get from Olympic Gold medal winner to International singer, actor, performer, etc. When you were a young girl training in gymnastics, did you ever see that this would be your future?
Never. I was incredibly shy growing up and I could certainly do gymnastics. But, the thought of actually standing on a stage and singing or acting in front of anybody, I would have never thought I would have the guts to do that or the ability to do that. Now it's been part of my life for so long. Had you told me this as a young girl or even as a young woman, I would have said absolutely not. But, it's funny when you train for something and apply the same training, you have to get better and sometimes when you're ready and then the opportunity comes up and if you get lucky then you are able to live another dream. I never expected that ever in a million years.
Tell us about McCoy –Rigby Entertainment. You and your husband started it and have great success with it. What are some of the greatest successes you have had with that?
There are couple of things that we do. The obvious thing is the theater works and our actor's theaters are able to go from our theater in La Mirada (California) and take some of the shows on the road like Jesus Christ Superstar, Camelot with Michael York, Peter Pan, Annie Get Your Gun; we've done a lot. We are able to take our shows to regional theaters, to Broadway and we recently did Jekyll and Hyde. When we launch those in our theater and then they go out (and tour), that's always been a great highlight for us at the theater to give the theater national exposure and to see our hard work last for more than one run in our theater. I think the other wonderful thing is that from our theater in La Mirada --we have been able to indirectly move into a conservatory of the arts for children and we have a theater in Yorba Linda, California. It's called McCoy Rigby Conservatory of the Arts where we teach young kids and older kids singing dancing acting and it's been the greatest accomplishment. It's great to see kids who don't necessarily go on to become prima ballerinas, they can and some of them do and become amazing at what they do. But to see kids through theater, their self-esteem rise and become so confident. I would have never guessed that. I see that happening everyday especially when I'm on the road and I go back and witness the improvement and the confidence that comes with being a part of this world. It's very exciting to me. I didn't expect it. I had no idea. I've been in this and to see how it affects the kids and the confidence they have gained, it's been very rewarding.
It's very true. I have a son who is 15 and just started to sing and I didn't realize he had such a good voice until he started to have lessons.
I remember when my son did that. It's really fun to see. This child has a talent. They're not afraid to do it and they're getting trained for it. It's really quite fun. My son's first was "Into the Woods" and he was that same age. I don't care what else they do in life; it's certainly helpful to them.
Tell us a little bit about this new production of PETER PAN.
I think that the thing that I see most with this…well first off, we have Brent Barrett who is our captain who is remarkable. I worked with him in "Annie Get Your Gun" many years ago. We've been wanting to work together for a long time. He's done everything from Phantom of the Opera to Chicago to Kiss me Kate. So here's this guy with this great resume and incredible voice; good friend; the chemistry in this show's wonderful. We have Kim Crosby who was Cinderella in Into the Woods. We have these pros who are willing to travel on a tour doing Peter Pan. They've been quite fun. We have lots of new choreography by Patti Columbo. Our Lost Boys and Indians are wonderful dancers but some of them are great acrobats and they add flair in that way. The sets are all renovated from new elements from that including silks that we put into the show which are a Cirque de Soilel type. The beginning of Neverland looks like vines coming down so it adds a wonderful flair. I think more than anything there's an ease with the show. It's a play with music which doesn't take away from any of the action or the sword fighting or the flying. I just feel as if the show has become more real in a fantasy world, more heart-felt. I think that comes from knowing it so well that there's less trying to make it something and allowing it to be this incredible story that's been around for over 100 years. And what I also see is people that come to the show obviously have a great history with it. They're parents, they're grandparents and now they're bringing their children and their children's children. It's more of a memory making experience that I feel very fortunate to be a part of it. It's not the first time people have seen it, it's a generation of people sharing a moment almost like a Christmas. It's a family experience. I've heard many stories when I meet people that say they saw it when they were kids…(they) saw Sandy Duncan, (they) saw Mary Martin. It makes it more meaningful at least to me.
How do you keep it fresh every night?
Playing a child or becoming that child within is always refreshing. The great thing about kids no matter what, whenever I meet them afterwards, there is a spontaneity, a mischief about them. They believe that anything is possible. When you get out of your own way, in trying to be perfect and make sure everything is just right. I never get tired of it. There are some many possibilities in the show to allow the elements of emotion and directness and mischief. It really makes it fun. And an audience that is filled with adults and children who have the experience with this show. You feel as if you are taking a journey with all of these people every night and it's new and it's fun. Yes, I get tired. But when you fly through the air, it's like getting on a roller coaster. You can ride that coaster every single night and not get tired of it because there's always a thrill to it. The minute I'm hoisted in the air, it's very exciting to me.
What is the best part about playing PETER PAN?
The whole thing is the best part. My favorite part is before the show and after the show when I see kids and I see their response. They're funny to me; they're joyous and it's like being Santa Claus. They are happy. They are always in awe and excited and you get to be part of this moment. It's it makes me happy to do it.
You travel from city to city and don't have much time off. Is it hard being away from your family for extended periods of time? What are some of the things you do to make it a little more easy as you are away from your family.
My youngest travels with me. She does hair and wigs and she always does some lighting. She is the head hair and wig person in the wig department. My husband produces the show so he comes in all the time. My other children come in at different times and I get to see them. But what's so great about traveling with a group of people unlike being in one place like New York or Los Angeles is that you become family. For thanksgiving we met at the hotel and had thanksgiving together. You get to know them well. When you come together you're complete strangers and we travel and all of a sudden you have 40 new friends that you spend this time with, all the good, the bad, the holidays. We do girls' night after the show. One of the things that our company manager did that was very cool was that on everybody's dressing room door she made little envelopes and you decorate cards and you say what you're thankful for that person or something that is special to you. You write a little thank you note. Little things like that make being away from home a lot easier.
What about your grandchildren, have they been able to see you play Peter Pan?
I just saw them. They just came to the show. The older ones, 15 year old and 8 year old, so they've grown up with it. The newest one to see the show is a 3 year old and he came to the show. It's hard for him, you know, wait a minute, you're my nana but you're also Peter Pan. He came to the show and he turns and he was doing something at home in that very sweet voice, "Hi Peter Pan."
What does your future look like?
My future, we're going to be out with Peter Pan until April then we just did a show in China and there's talk of going to Singapore with the show. And I'll continue with the theater in California and the conservatory and look at other shows that will come up. We just finished a new American Girl movie. I'm also writing a book. A gentleman named Erik Reinhold is helping me write this book. That will be out in the summer. Lots of little things going on. I'm probably most excited to be home for a while and just be nana.
What advice do you have for anyone thinking about getting into show business?
It's the greatest business in the world if you can make a living at it. In order to make a living at it I think you need to be a triple threat. There are amazing singers, amazing dancers but they haven't put so much time into their acting. Some part of the balance is off and they need to know that there are so many talented people out there. Sometimes you have to be twice as good as somebody else to get the part especially if you are breaking in. Study hard, be as good as you can. Don't give up on it. I think the best advice I can give is hang in there. It's so rewarding. Don't be a diva. Be kind to everybody. Everybody in the theater's important from the people who sweep the stage to the sound person to the stage managers. Be kind.
PETER PAN flies into San Antonio, Texas at the Majestic Theatre from December 4-9, 2012. Tickets are available by going to www.majesticempire.com or ticketmaster. Don't be left behind. Get your tickets and return to your youth with PETER PAN.
Photo Credit: Isaac James