Over my many years of producing and managing shows onstage, I’ve come to believe that beyond creating an entire piece of work for the audience to enjoy, what they are really taking away with them are specific moments from a show.
This became very clear to me when I looked back on the first National Tour and Broadway production of Peter Pan starring Cathy Rigby that we produced many years ago. I have had the pleasure to work with many great Directors and Choreographers, but we were incredibly lucky to have secured Fran Soeder to be the Director of Peter Pan. Fran made the point that we couldn’t do another straight revival of the show the way it had always been done – with silly pirates and a foppish Captain Hook. Fran argued that kids today know about guns and nuclear war, so we had to do a show that was a little more realistic and with a sense of danger.
So to make the pirates look more menacing, they wore big heels on their boots and had large shoulder pads and tall hats. And the Indians were made to look more real and scary. While we didn’t change any of the existing dialogue in the show, we took out all of the silliness. And the emotional high point in all prior productions of the show came late in the third act when Peter and Captain Hook had their big sword fight, the crocodile chased Hook overboard and everybody cheered.
However, Fran contended that the real emotional high point of the show should be in the following scene, when Peter returns to the nursery only to find that Wendy has grown up and her own daughter, Jane, is sleeping in the bed. Faced with this reality, Peter breaks down crying and Wendy leaves the room. Then Fran’s genius showed when he went back to Barrie’s original book and took from it that Peter then pulls his dagger and moves toward the bed intending to kill the daughter asleep there. But Peter realizes he can’t do it and breaks down crying. This awakens Jane who starts talking with Peter and decides that she will now be Peter’s mother and fly off to Neverland with him. Fran was right – this became the new emotional high point of the show.
It was proven to me early in the tour of the show when it was playing the huge Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I was there to check up on the show and was standing at the back of a Sunday matinee performance, with over 3,000 people packed in (including about 1,500 kids) to see it. At the last scene in the nursery when Peter pulls his dagger and moves toward the bed, a young boy’s voice rings out from the audience “Don’t do it, Peter!!!” Well, I still get choked up to this day just thinking about it. Fran was so right! We are in the business of “making moments.”
And Cathy was an amazing Peter Pan. She stunned everyone with her acting and singing skills, much less her physical agility that she brought to her flying sequences. And she was also one of the nicest people you would ever want to work with or for. Here is a recording from a subsequent production of the show that Cathy did.
I was thinking that since the original two year tour, Cathy must have been on the road for at least ten years with one production or another of the show. That’s ten years times eight shows a week to an average sized house of two thousand people means she performed the show to over eight million three hundred people. And I think it is safe to say that half of the audiences were children, so Cathy was responsible for bringing over four million children into the theater, probably for the first time. What an awesome legacy. Broadway should be so grateful and thank Cathy for helping to build their future audiences.
And maybe in our lives we should always be trying to “make moments.”