Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan at the Majestic Theatre.

Before the days of On Demand, satellite dishes and DVDs, there were annual rituals kids looked forward to on television – “The Wizard of Oz,” Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, and Mary Martin in “Peter Pan.”

So when I found out that I’d get to photograph opening night at the Majestic Theatre for “Peter Pan” with Cathy Rigby, I was pretty darn excited. Even though it had been at least 40 years since I had seen the Martin version, I still remember sitting in front of the TV, mesmerized. My mother would fuss that I was sitting too close and no doubt ruining my eyes. Considering the black and white Philco was only about 15” big, she was probably right.

Years later when I had kids of my own, they loved the Disney animated version of the story of the little boy who wouldn’t grow up. “Hook” with Robin Williams was a favorite, too. After a couple hundred viewings of those two movies, I guess my memories of the original Broadway version faded.

But last night at the Majestic Theatre, all those memories came flooding back, and I’m not ashamed to say they left me teary-eyed.

Peter Pan checks out his shadow after Wendy Darling sewed it back on for him.

Peter Pan convinces Wendy to fly back to Neverland with him.

If I had any doubts that the 59-year-old Olympic gymnast would do justice to the play, they were erased from the moment she flew into the large bedroom window of Wendy, Michael and John Darling. Her voice, her mannerisms, her agility – everything about her is truly Peter Pan.

To see her fly was breathtaking, especially when she pushed herself off the curtain and spun in dizzying circles all the way across the stage … while singing. Amazing. I’m happy if I can walk and chew gum at the same time.

And the proverbial icing on the cake was the finale, when Rigby flew out over the audience and christened them with fairy dust. Shiny silver squares seemed to rain over the crowd, and it was difficult to tell the kids from the adults as they looked above with squeals of laughter.

Fairy dust can do wonders! Cathy Rigby demonstrates its powers to Leslie Bohl of WOAI-TV.

If I thought that experience couldn’t be topped I was dead wrong. Today I got to go back to the Majestic to photograph a special media opportunity --  three local network anchors tried their hand at flying and swordfighting with none other than Rigby as their instructor.

Gracious. Funny. Approachable. It was truly a thrill to meet the woman who enthralled America at the 1968 and ’72 Summer Olympics. In my mind’s eye I could still see her on the cover of Life magazine, in pigtails and a bright pink leotard.

When Leslie Bohl of WOAI-TV asked her about the universal appeal of Peter Pan, Rigby’s answer validated my tears of the evening before. When kids see the play, they’re enthralled with the idea of never growing up, of living on an island, of fighting pirates. As adults, we’re torn. We remember what it was like to watch Peter Pan as a child but we’ve also (gasp!) grown up. What we wouldn’t give to go back to our childhood!

The great thing about fairy dust is that it can be used again and again.

When Wendy wants to know how she can fly, Peter tells her: “Think happy thoughts!”

Happy thoughts.

Christmas. Chocolate. Laughing babies. Puppies. 

And the handful of fairy dust I put in my pocket today … well, it certainly can’t hurt.

Peter Pan uses about 50 pounds of fairy dust every month while on tour.


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