‘Pirates of Penzance’ launched Durham Savoyards
A 1963 production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Pirates of Penzance” begat the Durham Savoyards. Fifty years later, two cast members from that first show are again on stage – or rather, in the box seats with the Royal Chorus – for the Savoyards’ performances of “The Pirates of Penzance” this month.
Couple Jim and Carol Sackett have been involved with the Durham Savoyards off and on for half a century.
In 1963, Jim Sackett was in the chorus for “Pirates,” which was a performance by the Durham Theatre Guild.
“It didn’t become Durham Savoyards until after the performance. We decided it would be a good idea to do more of them. I got involved just by chance,” Sackett said. New to Durham, he mentioned at lunch one day that he had sung in western New York, and was invited to sing for the performance.
“I hardly knew Gilbert from Sullivan at that point,” he said. “It was performed at Weaver Auditorium at Durham High School. It was a good show, well received. So the next year, they did the next most popular one in the canon, I suppose, called ‘H.M.S. Pinafore.’ It just kept going from there. In 1965, I had distinguished between Gilbert and Sullivan as to who wrote the lyrics and music, so they elected me president in 1965. I performed in 12 more. I moved away and came back, moved away, came back.”
Sackett said that the Savoyards were also “the biggest moving party in Durham. The camaraderie was wonderful and we loved to sing. I’ve done a whole lot of theater, motion pictures, television and what have you. Gilbert and Sullivan is a delightful medium, and particularly ‘Pirates.’”
As part of the Royal Chorus, Jim and Carol Sackett sit in the balcony box seats on either side of the stage, as the entourage of the mock Queen Victoria.
Carol Sackett was also in the 1963 performance of “The Pirates of Penzance,” as Kate. She and Jim knew each other, but he was married to someone else and she soon married also. In the late 1970s they were both single again and went on their first date to – of course – a Durham Savoyards performance. They married in 1977.
In 1963, Carol Sackett was a nurse working in the clinic of Duke University doctor Patrick Kenan, and already singing in the Choral Society of Durham. Kenan, a founder of the Durham Savoyards, asked her to join. Gilbert and Sullivan music is a scream, she said.
“A lot of the music -- there’s some gorgeous choral parts, but the dialogue is so shrewd and comic and timely,” Carol Sackett said.
“The Pirates of Penzance” is a very funny operetta, she said. Sackett last performed in the Savoyards’ “The Mikado” in 2003. She just retired after 50 years with the choral society, and has started learning to play the cello. She wanted to be in “Pirates” to celebrate the Savoyards’ 50th year. A big celebration is being planned for a weekend in October, featuring choral performances, the Gilbert and Sullivan-inspired comic ballet “Pineapple Poll” and a party. The Sacketts are hoping everyone who has had anything to do with the Durham Savoyards since 1963 will be part of the celebration. For information, visit www.durhamsavoyards.org.