PHOTOS: Former Gymnast Cathy Rigby to end her 4-decade long role as Peter Pan on stage

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Gymnast and actress Cathy Rigby, who celebrated her 60th birthday last month, is starring in Peter Pan at the Pantages Theatre from January 15th to 27th.

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Labels direct the placement of props on the stage, including the mushrooms that appear in Neverland.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Cathy Rigby holds a bucket of fairy dust. After past productions of Peter Pan at the Pantages Theatre, the dust has lingered in the theater for up to five months.

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Rigby has played Peter Pan since the 1980s, performing more than 3,000 times. The production has won two Emmys, and has been nominated twice for a Tony award.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Property master Scott Thomas sweeps up fairy dust off the stage into a pile.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

In one scene, Cathy Rigby flies over the audience, approximately 12 rows back. At 15 years old, Rigby was the first-ever American female to medal in the World Gymnastics competition.

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Lifting and swinging Rigby is a two-person effort, with Little controlling her height and Rubin controlling her direction.

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Rigby is a Southern California native, and now lives in La Habra Heights with her family.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Flying choreographer Paul Rubin, right, pulls ropes that swing Rigby back and forth on a wire.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

As a teenager, Cathy Rigby competed in the Summer Olympics in 1968 and 1972. She won 12 medals, including eight gold.

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Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Flying choreographer Paul Rubin, left, and associate flyer Jimmy Little prepare to attach wires above the stage, from which the rig will hang.

Cathy Rigby has played the part of Peter Pan ever since her retirement from gymnastics when she was 20-years-old. Now, after four decades and 3,000 performances, she plans to end her run as “the boy who wouldn't grow up.”

She’ll continue playing Peter Pan at performances at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles through Jan. 27.

Rigby, who recently sat down to talk about what the role has meant to her, said playing the part all these years has kept her in shape.

Rigby “flies” on wires, jumps, dances and sword fights on stage as Peter Pan. Despite the physical demands required of her, she said she hasn’t slowed down much – even at age 60.

“I don’t jump off the top of the roof of the doghouse like I used to,” she said. “It’s the only thing I’ve taken out of the show. Instead of going from the top of the doghouse to jumping on the bed, I just go in the doghouse.”

Rigby said in the past she hired a trainer who was an ex-marine to get her in shape for the part. She spent most of her focus on strengthening her core through Pilates. She said her background as a gymnast certainly didn’t hurt, either.

“Not just for this role, but for any role in musical theater,” she said. “Every role I’ve ever done they’ve all been very physical because you’re covering that stage and the energy that’s required is so great.”

Rigby doesn’t know who will play the role of Peter Pan after she retires.

“It could be anybody,” the actress said. “It’s just traditionally when (Playwright) Sir James Barrie wrote this, he put a girl in the role and I think that tradition has just held for so many years and it gives kind of an androgynous feel to it.”

Boy or girl, Rigby said the next actor to play Peter Pan must be able to take risks and have a childlike and fearless quality.

“They have to love a sense of abandonment, and mischief,” she said. “And most of all that truly anything is possible – that you can do anything.”

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