Actress Cathy Rigby was the highest-scoring American gymnast at the 1968 Olympics and became a favorite with American television audiences. She was U.S. National Gymnastic Champion in 1970 and 1972. Her greatest accomplishment was to become the first American woman to win a silver medal for the balance beam at the 1970 World Championships. In 1974, retired from gymnastics, she was offered the role of Peter Pan, which she has gloriously played for over 40 years, including Broadway with a Tony Award nomination as Best Actress in a Musical in 1990. She is about to open Peter Pan once more at the Pantages on January 15, having done it here in 2004. In our chat she talks about how she keeps the role fresh and why it has remained a favorite all these years.
Is this your 4th tour of Peter Pan?
Yes. It's about the 4th...I don't remember. (she laughs)
I saw you in June when you opened at your home theatre in La Mirada. You are so wonderful in the role. How do you keep it fresh?
You know what I think happens, Don, is that, when you know a role so well... I think I've learned more this time about acting than ever before in that, you get so caught up in the academic side of acting sometimes in thinking about where's the climax, what's this, what's that and you start analyzing so much how to play it and what to do, and I think if I've learned anything over the years from kids and from doing the role is that once you've learned it, you need to let all of that go and allow the moments to happen. It's Acting 101, but it's something that's hard to let go of, especially if you're a perfectionist, if you're in competition, and all of that, it's hard to let go of allowing the moments to happen. But it is the greatest breakthrough and it allows you to have lots of joy and fun...
Well, you do. When you first did it, that was 40 years ago. As you get older, how do you overcome the challenges of playing Peter ... who never grows old? You're in great physical shape, but it's got to hurt a little.
Actually, because I'm not trying so hard anymore... it's funny, it's a little easier now. The physical aspect for anybody...I don't care if you're 20 years old ... it's a very, very physical and tough role. You know, I'm probably more careful how I land. The only thing I've taken out is that I don't jump off the top of the doghouse onto the bed, because that was just silly. A silly thing to do to my knees! (we both laugh) And yes, my shoulders get sore and sometimes, my lower back, but it's nothing that sometimes a little Aleve can't help. I try to stretch and do as much core work in Pilates as I can. On the road, I'm not like a 20 year-old where I'm going to go out and party at night. Not with 8 shows a week. But I still have lots of fun. I think there's just a feeling of...you can take your moments in the show. You can take your time. Rushing or hyperventilating is not good for anybody. I'm not being very articulate about this, but it really, really has helped over the last 6 months.
Is this your favorite role?
It has become that because I know it so well and done it so often. There's a part of me that, like everybody, loves the joy of staying young. Peter lives moment to moment, and there's that bittersweet side that he can never change and have what the rest of us have. Yes, it's become my favorite and for many reasons. My children traveled with me when we first started. My husband (Tom McCoy) and I produced many of the tours.
Don't you have family members in the show right now?
Not right now. I did. I have one son who's in Germany with a company there. He's a dancer. Two of them work in the office in contracts and production. The only one on the road with me is my youngest daughter Katie McCoy, who is head of the wig department in the show, so I do get to travel with her.
If Peter is your favorite role, what is a close second?