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Cathy Rigby flies again in 'Peter Pan'

Cathy Rigby flies in

Cathy Rigby flies in "Peter Pan." Credit: Craig Schwartz

Actress and former gymnast Cathy Rigby has played the title role in the high-flying family musical "Peter Pan" on and off for over 20 years. A new national tour opens this week at the Theater at Madison Square Garden for a brief engagement.

amNewYork spoke with Rigby, 59, about the show.

Wasn't your last New York engagement billed as a "farewell tour"? It was - I didn't have any intention of doing it again.

So what made you come back to the show? The only answer I have is that I missed it. There's something very special and joyful about the role.

So is this now the "farewell tour"? No, we're not doing that again. I don't see myself playing it after a certain amount of time, but I'm in better shape now than I've ever been. There was a little trepidation at first, but I started doing Pilates and got a trainer.

When did you first play Peter Pan? I first played Peter Pan in a huge Disney arena show in the early '80s, and that got me interested in theater. I starting studying voice and acting, and eventually I did the musical "Peter Pan" in a national tour in 1990 - and then it came to Broadway.

How has your performance changed over the years? The best part of having played Peter Pan so long is that it becomes a part of you. It's almost like an alter ego. And it becomes effortless after a while, so it allows you to play the role more spontaneously, without so much thought.

Why do you think the show endures so well? For many different reasons: the whole idea of flying and growing up and staying eternally young and watching your own children grow up. The misunderstanding of Hook. We love Peter for his bravado and spontaneity, but we also see he's a really lonely young guy. It's a good thing he lives in Neverland, because the real world would not accept him.

Has the flying changed at all? We're now using a double wire instead of a single wire. It's connected to the hip, so I put in more spinning and flipping. We do things called "death drops."

Do people look at the flying any differently now in light of "Spider-Man"? "Spider-Man" has a computerized setup. I rely on two people who've flown with me for 20 years. It's like being a figure skater with a partner you trust. I don't want to jinx anything, but I never had any accidents. I'd be concerned about being hooked into a situation with electronics.

If you go: "Peter Pan" plays at the Theater at Madison Square Garden through Dec. 30. 4 Penn. Plz., 212-465-6741,

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