Every person has experienced an awe-inspiring moment, but this winter, the Pantages Theatre brings a childhood twist to wonder with its production of Peter Pan.
The play, running Jan. 15-27, reunites star Cathy Rigby with her iconic lead role for the fifth time. Also starring in the show is Brent Barrett as both the villainous Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Playing two roles might seem like overkill, but Barrett appreciates a good challenge.
“They’re both a lot of fun to play, but they’re very different,” Barrett said. “Most of the time, people do not know that it’s the same actor playing both the roles, so when they don’t know that, I feel like I’ve succeeded.”
It’s interesting to note that in most major productions of Peter Pan, from the classic 1953 Disney film to the stage versions, the role of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook is played by the same actor.
“I think from the children’s perspective, the father is the bad guy,” Barrett said. “He’s the one that’s responsible. He’s got to make the money, keep the house over their head, so kids could view him as the mean adult. That transitions him to the pirate in their fantasy, which is going to Neverland.”
Hook also acts as the comic relief of the play, often with the laughs at his expense — but that doesn’t mean he isn’t the ruthless pirate children around the world have feared for generations.
“I think some people think he’s scary and some people think he’s funny,” Barrett said. “We try to make him a little scary, but without frightening the children out of the theater.”
Barrett and Rigby shared the stage in the 1993 U.S. tour of “Annie Get Your Gun,” playing the romantic leads. It took nearly two decade to get the two stars in the same production again, but not for lack of trying. After “Annie Get Your Gun” closed, Rigby was set to revive her role as Peter Pan, and the production staff approached Barrett to join her as Captain Hook. Unfortunately, Barrett had to turn down the tour.
“I’d been on the road so much that I decided that I needed to stay home for a while,” he said.
This latest tour was inspiration to hit the road once again. “I had a feeling that this would be Cathy’s last go-round with it and I wanted the chance to do it with her before she signed off, before she said goodbye.”
Though there might be doubts, since the 2004-05 tour was billed as her swan song, Barrett is confident that, at 60 years old, this will be audiences’ last chance to see Rigby flying with the aid of some pixie dust.
“You’ve got to come and see Cathy; it’s her farewell tour. I think this is it. I can almost bet you that this will be it.”
Barrett, who has played the title character of Phantom of the Opera, the heinous Hannibal Lecter and Chicago’s Billy Flynn, embraces his double role in Peter Pan, especially with the camaraderie and professional candor between him and Rigby.
“There is a nice comfort level in working with Cathy since we’ve known each other for so long,” he said. “We go out. We do our thing. We have a great time. She’s been doing it for so long, she is the quintessential Peter Pan. No one has done this show like she has.”
With the swordplay of the swashbuckling Hook, however, Barrett had to return to his roots to prepare for the role.
“I hadn’t done any sword fighting since I was in college, so that took a while to get back into my brain,” he said. “But when you’re a kid you play cowboys and Indians, you play pirates, so this is just letting your childhood fantasies run wild.”
Since many USC students grew up hearing the story of Peter and Wendy and have enjoyed many feature film adaptations, skepticism about the show’s draw is understandable, but entirely wrong.
Boasting musical numbers that only theatre audiences get to experience, participatory clapping to save Tinkerbell and Hook’s lavish red coat, Peter Pan is a story that’s meant to be experienced in person. Barrett adds that the biggest highlight of seeing the show live is also a childhood dream of many: flying.
“I think anyone, kids especially, seeing Peter Pan flying in the window for the first time, they’re mesmerized for the entire show,” Barrett said. “They’re transported to another place that you don’t get when you’re watching a movie. You know it’s all make-believe, but when you actually see a live person flying, there’s something to that that’s exhilarating and exciting for kids and adults.”