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Theater Review: 'Peter Pan' -- 2.5 stars

Tom Hewitt, left, and Cathy Rigby star in

Tom Hewitt, left, and Cathy Rigby star in “Peter Pan” at Madison Square Garden. Credit: Tom Hewitt, left, and Cathy Rigby star in “Peter Pan” at Madison Square Garden.

Peter Pan
2.5 stars

So far as family-friendly musicals with lengthy flying sequences go, the 1954 classic "Peter Pan" is superior to the new Broadway spectacle "Spider-Man" in every imaginable way.

The heartwarming musical has long stayed in the public view thanks to a television recording of the original production starring Mary Martin.
And for the past 20 years, it has served as a star vehicle for Cathy Rigby, who has done the show both on Broadway and on tour.

So long as you don't sit too close - which is all but impossible to do at the grossly oversized Theater at Madison Square Garden - you can hardly tell that former gymnast Rigby is nearly 60 years old.

On a purely physical level, she remains in top condition, gracefully performing dives, spins and back flips while in mid-air and attached to wires.
At curtain call, she is even pushed onto a glider system that allows her to briefly soar right over audience members.

She also stays completely in character. Whereas Martin was dainty and upright, Rigby presents Peter as a rough and masculine but insecure young boy. It is only vocally that she suffers, requiring other cast members to join Rigby during her songs to give her a boost.

Tom Hewitt proves to be an appropriately flamboyant and hammy Captain Hook, using lunatic facial gestures and unnaturally silly tones of voice while singing.

This production might very well be enjoyable if seen in a Broadway house, as it was 13 years ago. But at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, you feel miles away even when sitting in the front orchestra. The sets can't even fill up the entire stage.

As a result, the performance is successful only when Rigby is doing stunts or the cast is performing Patti Colombo's physically aggressive choreography, which culminates in a celebratory powwow between the Lost Boys and the Indians.
The show's physical humor is also played up in order to keep the audience - primarily children - engaged.

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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