Interview By Marilyn Lester
Cathy Rigby will be flying again, but this time not as Peter Pan. The gold medal-winning, two-time Olympic Gymnast will be starring in the new musical, Kris Kringle The Musical, playing at The Town Hall on Friday, November 24 at 3PM and 8PM, For this flying visit to New York, Rigby will take the part of The Narrator, overseeing an original tale of the young, starry-eyed toymaker, Kris Kringle, who crosses paths with an evil New York City toy company CEO. Young Kris soon finds himself wrapped up in a magical curse with the power to destroy Christmas.
The role is akin to a plum in the Christmas pudding for Rigby. She’s long enjoyed a stellar career in theater after leaving competitive gymnastics in 1972, and sports casting 18 years after that. At that time, Rigby realized she wanted a change in her life’s direction. She spent seven years in intense voice and theatrical training to prepare for the performing arts. It was a life-changing move. “As an athlete,” she says,” we had to learn to control every aspect of movement. We had to learn to block out any fear by shutting down emotion. We had to learn how to focus.” In her years of theatrical study, the emphasis was 180 degrees away from her prior training. “It was difficult at first, but I had to learn to open up and be spontaneous. Then a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. You have no idea what you can do until you try.” Rigby also cites the discipline of her early training as a key to her success in shifting gears. Her dedication has paid off in a career with credits that include National and regional tours of Annie Get Your Gun, Meet Me In St. Louis, South Pacific, Paint Your Wagon, The Unsinkable Molly Brown, Sylvia, and Steel Magnolias. On Broadway, she starred as the title role in Peter Pan in 1991 and 1998, and in Seussical the Musical as Cat-In-The-Hat in 2002. The actress has also been Tony-nominated and has two Emmy awards to her credit, among other honors.
In Kris Kringle, Rigby revisits the world of children’s theater. She reveals that Peter Pan was more a reactive role, although she loved playing the part. As the narrator of Kris Kringle, she has the opportunity to be an essential part of moving the story forward. “The show is not only for children,” she says,” but has plenty of humor and innuendo for adults too. I have the opportunity to work with that aspect of the show and also to guide the children through things they might not understand.” The message of the musical has at its core the true meaning of Christmas, a theme Rigby thinks is especially relevant for today’s times. “Kris Kringle is about more than the value of family,” she says. That’s an important focal point, but there’s more, she adds, in relation to the work’s statement about materialism. “The show is very much about creating an environment of love and giving.” To make the point Rigby reveals that in the intricacies of the plot, it turns out that Kringle and the evil CEO are related. The resolution of the story involves a large measure of forgiveness as well.
Kris Kringle walks its talk. The musical benefits The Singing Angels, a charity whose mission is to “encourage, foster and cultivate positive youth development by engaging youth from all communities in quality music and performing arts education.” Rigby has performed with the group in the past and is in her own endeavors no stranger to an organization that furthers children in the arts. With her husband, Tom McCoy, the pair own and operate McCoy Rigby Conservatory of the Arts, whose mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of youth through professional performing arts training. An important part of the conservatory is the No Limits program for children with autism and other challenges. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to participate,” she says. “The program gives these children confidence. It really helps them grow.” Rigby’s experience playing Peter Pan and her subsequent work with children was an eye-opener, she reports. “I discovered how magical it was for a child to experience live theater for the first time,” she says. “I also realized how important it is to encourage kids to be creative – to explore that process. Getting them away from the cell phones and letting them get into that creative space gives them empathy, and that’s hard to come by these days.” Kris Kringle is a project she’s excited to be a part of. “It’s a holiday show!” she exclaims. “It’ll be great fun.”
Kris Kringle The Musical also features Tony Award nominees Pamela Myers (Company, Into the Woods), Andrew Keenan-Bolger (Tuck Everlasting, Newsies) and Kim Crosby (Into the Woods, Guys & Dolls), as well as 10-year old Kaylin Hedges (Annie at the Westchester Broadway Theater), 13-year old Anthony Rosenthal (Falsettos on Broadway), and 13-year old Jeremy T. Villas (Kinky Boots on Broadway).
The original book is by Maria Ciampi, with music and lyrics by Tim Janis and Angelo Natalie, and additional lyrics by Maria Ciampi. Kris Kringle The Musical is presented by Angel Polar Bear LLC, Tony Award nominee Gerald A. Goehring (A Christmas Story The Musical) and John E. Thomas (Little Women The Musical) are Executive Producers.
Kris Kringle The Musical plays at The Town Hall (123 West 43 Street) on November 24 at 3 PM and 8PM. Tickets via Ticketmaster.