Theatrical memories

Published 11:32 am Thursday, February 20, 2020

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Tryon Savoyards share memories of Gilbert & Sullivan shows


Whether you’re a savvy Savoyard or a relative newcomer to live musical theatre, the upcoming Feb. 22 show, “I’ve Got A Little Twist” at Tryon Fine Arts Center, is sure to induce laughter, a fresh perspective on current events and memories for some Tryon thespians who once specialized in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan.

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“Savoyards” are fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, writers whose plays and music continue to poke fun at the quirks of society and modern culture. Like all fans, Gilbert and Sullivan’s loyal followers have helped to keep the dynamic duo in the spotlight recasting shows such as HMS Pinafore, Pirates of Penzance, Trial by Jury and The Mikado that delighted audiences with absurdity and humor. Magical Gilbert and Sullivan collaborations have endured as a mainstay of local troubadours, theatre groups and repertory ensembles who want to have fun while entertaining the audience. 

Tryon once had its own repertory company featuring talented performers who, as The Foothills Savoyards, recast the comic operas with local appeal. In the late 1990s, The Foothills Savoyards opened the season at the Polk County Courthouse with Trial by Jury. Then for five years, they entertained enthusiastic audiences at the current fine arts center, according to Jean Pettigrew, who with Hope Slater, acted as the company’s producers.

Costumes and sets, music and choreography were lavish, and a British director actually visited the area for several months to help with the finishing touches before performances. And the local Savoyards “miraculously made money,” Pettigrew said, laughing at the memories.

Founded by former Tryonites Nancy Dunn and her late husband Charles, The Foothills Savoyards once included 75-80 members who helped with building sets, managing the stage lighting, acting and singing to the music that spotlighted the comic genius of Gilbert and Sullivan.

From a simple notice in the Tryon Daily Bulletin, the idea to perform these musical operettas enticed former Gilbert and Sullivan players and vocalists out of retirement while luring others with little experience as a Savoyard. Pettigrew guessed that 60 percent of the local players had experience as a Savoyard in other cities.

In 1997, The Foothills Savoyards had one last curtain call after performing The Mikado, before the company disbanded.

“And we made a nice contribution to the Tryon Fine Arts Center,” Pettigrew said. “We had a wonderful time, and it’d be such fun to see former Savoyards at the upcoming show.”

Saturday’s show, “I’ve Got A Little Twist,” will highlight the fun and influence William Gilbert and Art Sullivan had on musical theater since their rise to popularity in the late 1800s. 

In true Gilbert and Sullivan style, “I’ve Got A Little Twist” will take center stage at Tryon Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. this Saturday.

Performed by six actors with the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, “I’ve Got A Little Twist” will feature the classic, comedic genius and satirical lyrics for which Gilbert and Sullivan performances are known—combined with a cabaret-style revue that includes other Broadway tunes, all tied together with an added twist to the silliness.

“We’re looking forward to the evening, and I expect this performance to fill the theater,” said Marianne Carruth, executive director of the Tryon Fine Arts Center. “I’m certain the audience will be thoroughly entertained!” 

For more information, call 828-859-8322.


Submitted by Steve Wong


In 1997, The Foothills Savoyards had one last curtain call after performing The Mikado, before the company disbanded.