Audiences could not have known at the time, but closing night of “Eat, Drink and Be Merry,” last summer’s Pageant of the Masters production, also marked the final performance for its narrator Skip Conover, whose retirement was announced publicly on Thursday, March 3.
For Conover, who described his job as “sewing together a beautiful tapestry,” giving up his role was not easy. But, citing health issues, he finally conceded to end his 17-year run in a decision disclosed earlier to pageant staff,.
Negotiations for a new narrator are ongoing and an announcement will be made as soon as there’s a signed contract, said pageant director Diane Challis Davy. “Only Make Believe,” the upcoming production, is scheduled for performances July 7-Aug. 31.
Conover made his debut narrating the celebration of art in tableaux vivants – “living pictures” — behind the microphone at the back of the Irvine Bowl in 1994. He succeeded Thurl Ravenscroft, the “voice of the Pageant” for 20 years and beloved for his voice-over work as Kellogg’s “Tony the Tiger.” “Thurl was my hero,” said Conover, also a voice-over professional.
For the next 17 seasons, Conover took on the demanding task of performing his Pageant narration duties every night during runs that averaged nearly 60 consecutive nights. He never missed a single show, logging more than 1,000 Pageant performances behind the microphone. Invariably, audiences continued to be surprised when they found out the narration they were hearing was, in fact, being performed live every night, said a statement by Challis Davy.
“Skip is of a rare breed of voice artists,” she said. “He knows how to charm an audience, how to make them feel comfortable. He never ‘lectured’ the audience, and yet he managed to inform them. And like a true professional, he made it seem easy.”
Veteran scriptwriter Dan Duling, who wrote for both Ravenscroft and Conover, said “Skip was a total pro with a great voice. But, even more remarkable was his conversational quality and his wonderful ability to tell stories with warmth and humor. He related to the script like a musician, intuitively sensing how it could complement the musical underscoring. Our collaboration was a joy from start to finish.”
Conover, a resident of Nevada, wrote a letter to the Pageant volunteers and staff to share with them his decision. “We will sorely miss the camaraderie and friendship of you all. The pride I felt each night as I began my trek up to the booth [came from] knowing that a unique and gifted group of people had my back, so it was simply a matter of sewing together a beautiful tapestry using the orchestra as my thread and giving every audience the thrill of a lifetime.”
He concluded, “We both hope and pray the Pageant will continue to shine like the beautiful and unique star that it is.”