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To Neverland, nevermore

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PETER Pan refused to grow up - and for a while, it seemed, Cathy Rigby didn't want to, either.

But all things must pass, and now - 2,600 performances since her 1989 debut in a roving production of "Peter Pan" - the former Olympic gymnast will finally leave Neverland.

"I love doing it, I have the energy to do it and the passion still," says the 52-year-old star, now playing her farewell tour at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.

"But I don't want to ever compromise the show because I've overdone it."

Rigby says she was attracted to the part when she and her young son saw Sandy Duncan in the show.

"I remember thinking it would be a perfect role," she says. "Not only because of the obvious athleticism and flying and all that, but also because there was a part of me ... that was very mischievous and adventurous."

That part of her, the elfin actress says, was closed off in the rigorous world of gymnastics - where the pressure to perform perfectly on a 4-inch beam meant shutting down emotionally.

"Here, I'm allowed to be a kid again," she says, happily. "It's probably the best therapy anybody could ever have!"

Despite her athletic skills, she's suffered a few mishaps with the flying aspect of the role over the years. During one particularly heated swordfight with Captain Hook, she gashed herself and received 17 stitches over one eye.

"But the audience thought it was great special effects," she laughs.

The current production, which she's producing along with her husband, Tom McCoy, is something of a family affair: Her daughter Theresa is playing both Jane and one of the Lost Boys; her nephew plays John Darling, and her sister is the show's general manager. On the road, her brother-in-law handles the concessions.

After the tour ends, she'll head back to California, where she and her husband head up La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. (She hopes to bring an upcoming production of "Camelot" starring Michael York to New York eventually).

In the meantime, she'll keep flying to Neverland eight times a week, sprinkling plenty of fairy dust along the way.

"Peter Pan" runs through Dec. 30 at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Tickets, $35 to $75 at the box office, online at or through Ticketmaster, (212) 307-7171.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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