By Shannon Penrod
In the song Return to Pooh Corner there is a line that says…It’s hard to explain how a few precious things, seem to follow throughout all our lives… Peter Pan is one of those precious things in my family.
I have always loved Peter Pan so I was thrilled when a little over a decade ago I was invited to attend a special performance of the acclaimed Broadway version starring Cathy Rigby. The performance was special because it was being filmed for the Arts & Entertainment network. I went to the Theater expecting a magical evening and I wasn’t disappointed. It took my breath away. It was a bitter-sweet evening, as I watched in wonder and also watched all of the children in the audience. I was in my late 30’s with a biological clock that ticked louder than Hook’s dreaded crocodile. The evening was perfect…except that I longed to have a child to share it with.
As luck and prayer would have it, I did end up having a child a couple of years later and I was thrilled that the performance of Peter Pan that I had attended was available on DVD. My child LOVED the DVD from the first time he watched it. He danced around the room and would crow like a rooster, following Cathy Rigby’s every move. It was a special joy to me that my little boy loved that particular version of Peter Pan. It made my world feel right.
Then my son changed. It wasn’t overnight, but a slow slide into nothingness. My child stopped dancing, and singing and then talking. He still loved that Peter Pan DVD, but Autism had come to live at our house and now his enjoyment was displayed in sitting quietly when nothing else would soothe him. Whenever he was sick, and for a while that was often, the only thing that made him feel better was that Peter Pan DVD – the Disney version couldn’t do it, but Cathy Rigby could.
As my son worked to regain language, one of the first things he verbally requested was “Peter Pan!” My son worked tirelessly for years to overcome the more disabling aspects of Autism. Through those years we moved a couple of times and at some point the Peter Pan DVD got packed away and was eventually forgotten. My son progressed miraculously and all was right with our world.
Then last month we were invited to a special performance of Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby! I couldn’t believe our luck! I couldn’t contain my excitement. I talked to my son on the way to the theatre and asked him if he remembered anything about the version of Peter Pan that he had loved as a child. He didn’t really. I was dismayed, but hopeful. I knew he was going to love the show, whether he could remember it or not.
We sat in the Theater as the overture began and I held my breath, it was a full circle moment that had taken more than a decade, but I was finally going to be able to share the magic of such a wonderful show with my own child! There are no words to describe how truly fabulous the evening was. My face hurt from smiling so much. My child was riveted, transported, transfixed, enchanted, swept away and moved. I was in heaven. I drank in the show, and my child loving the show, like a starved woman at a banquet. I could have stayed in that Theater in that moment forever. I would have gleefully moved in if they had let me! I should also add that my husband who had never seen the live show, but at one point had the entire DVD memorized, sat on the edge of his seat with a goofy grin on his face the entire show. He loved it as much as any of the children which was just the icing on the cake.
After the show, when I would have told you it could not have gotten any better, we were invited to go backstage. My little boy shook with excitement when Cathy Rigby came up to him and quietly filled his hands with fairy dust. She talked to him and I worried that he was going to pass out. Ahhh, the eye contact was something to behold! It was the perfect end to a perfect evening and the lovely bookend to a relationship with a truly magical show. But, it wasn’t the end at all…
The next morning my son woke me up singing. Please understand that before Autism my son sang all the time. After Autism my son hummed all the time and eventually sang on the rare occasion, softly, so no one could here. Singing, it seemed, and the enjoyment of it, was just part of the collateral damage of Autism. Over time it was just something we had accepted.
I don’t know what the magic surrounding this particular version of Peter Pan is, I just know that there is magic in this show for me and for my child. It is as though the show reached through time and touched something in him from years ago, something I thought had been lost in translation. Ever since we saw the show, my child has been singing out loud whenever he has had the opportunity. This morning he woke my husband and I up singing, ” Zip-a-Dee-Do-Da!” Every night he has asked me to sing songs from The Wizard of Oz with him. He has been making songs up, improvising lyrics, cracking us up and leaving us speechless. I thought we had lost this forever. But Peter Pan brought it back. It was something I hadn’t even thought to hope for.
So…what can I tell you? Our kids are only little for such a short time. Getting to see their faces lit with wonder is such a precious gift. Getting to share a moment of sheer delight with them is something to be cherished, a memory that will never fade or tarnish. This is what seeing Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby can do. This and possibly much, much more. I’m telling you it’s magical! This amazing show is on its way back to New York for the holiday season. If you are looking for something spectacular to share with a child in your life, you can not afford to miss this show.
To Cathy Rigby, to the cast and crew of Peter Pan, and to Glenn Casale, the brilliant director of both this production and the one over a decade ago – Thank you! Thank you for the magic! Your work and your talent has made profound difference in the life of one special little boy. Please consider your karma bank full and know that you are nightly included on one mother’s gratitude list.