Meridian Little Theatre is "dark" on Mondays, as show people say. That means there are no performances on that day. Everything is quiet and calm.
Leigh Anne Whittle thought about that when she heard MLT's longtime director, Jimmy Pigford, passed away Monday afternoon.
"I loved him so much," said Whittle, who first worked under Pigford in MLT's production of "Cats" in 2006. She has performed in six MLT productions, most recently starring in "Sorry, Wrong Chimney," which was staged in December.
"He was a man who proved people could be who they could be. He saw talent in people who didn't know they had talent," Whittle said.
She remembers Pigford as a sweet man who could be a tough director when it came to getting people to realize their full potential. After her introduction to Pigford and MLT, Whittle said she couldn't wait to be involved again, to see what he would bring out of her next.
"Jimmy Pigford was his own man," Whittle said. "His crystal clear eyes alone filled you with encouragement. His demeanor stood for excellence. If you met him you were delighted. If you knew him you were touched. And if you loved him you're among a crowd of many who broke their legs for him."
The show goes on
A native of Meridian, Pigford, 80, worked with Meridian Little Theatre for more than 50 years, and has been its resident director since 1965. This was to be his final season before retirement.
Services for Pigford were held Thursday. MLT's upcoming production is "Steel Magnolias," to be staged Feb. 21-27.
MLT veteran Sidney Covington plays M'Lynn Eatenton in the play.
"My first association with Jimmy Pigford was in the '60s at the old Playhouse on 52nd Street, where I was a member of the orchestra. I was 13 and was mesmerized by this man," Covington said. "I'm not sure what the first musical was that I played but I recall that, during "Fiddler On the Roof," the curtain was to go up and the fiddler was to be sitting on the roof of the house fiddling the opening strains of the musical. I looked up from the pit, and to my surprise, there sat Jimmy, fiddle in hand, pretending to fiddle."
Covington said she played in the orchestra for several more years before deciding to audition for a part.
"I landed the lead role of Dulcinea, the 'girlfriend' of Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha," she said. "Since the character was a rather unsavory woman and I was only 17, Jimmy had to call my dad and talk him into letting me have the part! That was in 1969 and I've been with him in some capacity ever since. One thing I've observed through these years is this: anyone who has had any association with Jimmy always thinks they were one of his close friends. What a tribute to the kind of man Jimmy was — and always will be."
David Benson, organist and choirmaster at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, has worked on many MLT productions and has helped with directing duties recently. He will be doing the music for MLT's next production after "Steel Magnolias," which is "Bye Bye Birdie," the first production Pigford directed for MLT. He said Ronnie Miller will direct that show.
"I'm going to miss Jimmy Pigford's quick wit and the joy he took in creating productions that sparkled on stage and delighted audiences for many years. But most of all, I'm going to miss Jimmy Pigford my friend," Benson said.