Earlier this week, Jack Tygett passed away. In San Diego where I grew up, he was a popular teacher, director and choreographer. He danced in movies like Mary Poppins and Oklahoma. He also had roles in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1965) and The Wild Wild West (The Night of the Puppeteer, season 1, 1966).
The news of Jack Tygett’s death brings back memories of the spring and summer of 1981. I was a senior in high school and member of San Diego Junior Theatre. I got a call from a friend offering me the job of rehearsal secretary for Starlight’s production of Flower Drum Song. Starlight (San Diego Civic Light Opera) is a summer theatre company that performs musicals in a large outdoor amphitheater in Balboa Park. Lots of kids from the Junior Theatre program go on to do Starlight, and I was already planning to submit a resume with the company that summer. I was thrilled to be offered a position. Jack Tygett and his wife Marge were the director and choreographer of Flower Drum Song, and I met them the next day. Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
April 17, 1981 Casa Del Prado, Room 207
Jenny Woo, Jimmy Saba, Beverly Davis, Lori Hood, Lara Tepper, Jill Brow, Audrey Pritchard, Tori Purdom, Steve Moramarco, Eileen Bowman
All these people from [San Diego] Junior Theatre auditioned today for Flower Drum Song and The Wizard of Oz. I came to the first audition totally unprepared for what I’d meet. The first person I met is my director, Mr. Jack Tygett. He reminds me of Red Buttons. Mrs. Tygett is okay, too. I was sooo hungry. They had food from McDonald’s, but it was Good Friday so Mom wouldn’t let me eat any. I felt like a baby running over to her to see if I could eat. We narrowed it down to a few kids. I kept losing my audition sheets. After the auditions, I went and got my driver’s license (!!!).
Yeah, the things that are worth writing down at age 18 make me cringe now! Once I ditched my mother by getting my driver’s license, it felt like I spent every waking moment working (or playing) on Flower Drum Song. We held fifty rehearsals, but there were also lots of parties and post-rehearsal meals, and even a road trip to Magic Mountain. I spent many hours at the Tygetts’ home with the cast, and I also got to know daughter Nan Tygett. Even when I screwed up, the Tygetts always treated me with warmth and patience. They accepted me as a member of their big extended theatre family.
Flower Drum Song requires a large cast to play Chinese and Chinese-American characters. The Tygetts cast the best dancers and performers who auditioned, many of them students who’d worked with the Tygetts before. We had some Japanese performers, many Filipinos, a lot of dark haired Caucasians, and even a pale blonde or two. I learned a lot that summer about different Asian cultures, and I also ate my first lumpia and sushi.
I lost touch with the Tygetts after that summer. Four years later, I was working at the La Jolla Playhouse on Merrily We Roll Along with some students from USIU, where the Tygetts taught. I asked one of them about Jack and Marge. This was when I learned that Marge had passed away. I was saddened by the news. Now that Jack has joined her, I’m sure there’s a lot more dancing in heaven!