By Wayne Harada
Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College, which has been the canvas for director Ron Bright’s musical productions and a playground for his post-retirement energy, has bypassed a traditional “book” show this year because of elusive funds and a still-weak economy.
The theater instead is presenting sort of a Best of Ron Bright retrospective, looking back at the past 10 years of stage spectacles at Paliku, with “Broadway @ Paliku: 10 Years of ‘Bright’ Lights,” for a two-weekend Sept. 28 through Oct. 7. One extension date also has been set: Oct. 3
The round up enables Bright to tap some of his luminaries from the past, many with legit Broadway credits, showcasing 30 tunes, many showstoppers, from the last decade. All involved hope this will jump-start renewed support for Paliku and its enviable track record, and perhaps trigger donations to continue the show policy at the Windward outpost for the next decade — or longer.
We posed 10 questions — five for director Bright, who has been at the heart of the Paliku punch, and five for Tom Holowach, the lone salaried community college theater staff member — to comment and reflect on the artistry and the necessity to tap resources so that actors can strut their stuff and new generations of performers can experience the joy of theater.
Ron Bright Q&A:
Q: Was it tough to extract one number to represent each show?
A: No, it wasnʻt difficult at all. It was great fun reminiscing over the past. We are shortening each number ... We have so much more to share! All performances for the montage (our 10 years of musicals) are done by newcomers, with the exception of my son Mike who will reprise a bit of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning."
Q: How about placement -- is there a scheme from beginning to end, or is the retrospective meant to just revisit good moments from great shows?
A: No, there is no scheme. The montage happens at the beginning of the second act. Yes, we are revisiting great moments from many recent Broadway shows and some vintage ones that have been around for a while. What weʻre doing is showcasing the many extraordinary voices that have come our way by an audition call. I was truly blessed by the number of people who showed up.
Q: What is/was the most complicated tune to stage (costume, prop, talent involved, etc.)?
A: None were majorly complicated. You see, Iʻm working with very seasoned performers, many of whom are soloists. We are going with a black and white costume color scheme adorned with a few colorful accessories. Staging the full company numbers were the most fun.
Q: Is it tougher to put together this theatrical mixed plate than to stage a "book" show?
A: Not really. The difficulty was selecting the show tunes... We finally settled on performer preferences and some that I really wanted to do. Here, you are staging songs only, whereas in a book musical you block songs and dialogue. I never find one more difficult than the other. Theyʻre all fun! The cast always rejuvenates my energy level. Actually, we feed off each otherʻs energy.
Q: Despite the intensity of staging another annual production, do you manage to make time to enjoy "retirement," or is that word not in your vocabulary?
A: Thanks for asking! Yes, that word is in my vocabulary but it takes on a new meaning. You see, Mo (Mrs. Bright) and I continue to babysit every day, but weʻre down to only one child now, my granddaughter. The other two are in kindergarten and pre-school. I still manage to walk for exercise, either strolling babies or walking laps at Ala Moana Center. No, I donʻt think I will ever truly retire, however I would like to envision several cruises my the future. I’d like to take trips to Broadway ... maybe when I "tire" myself out, only then will I embrace the word retirement.
Tom Holowach Q&A:
Q: It's no secret that funding has evaporated for the performing arts; so how much is this show costing vs. a traditional book show?
A: There has never been any funding directly from WCC to run the theater... not one cent; only the legislative appropriation for my salary and a half-time technical director. There have never been any grants or corporate funding to lose. Consequently, when the economy went bad, and people said “Aren’t you afraid your funding will be cut?” I answered “No, because the only funds they can cut are my salary, and if they do that, they will have to close Paliku’s doors, which would be a huge PR hit.
Q: You are Paliku Theatre, in terms of staffing; is the success of "Bright Lights" a make-it-or-break-it situation, in terms of funding?
A: Every production is zero-base budgeted and produced like a film. We hire everybody independently for each project, float everything on credit and pay all the expenses from ticket receipts. In addition, all the theatre maintenance items like tools, equipment and replacement lamps are amortized into the operating budget for the fall show. WCC as a fiscal entity has not paid for a single lamp, either in the auditorium or in the lobby, since the building was built.
Every show is budgeted to break even; full houses and true extensions are where we make a true profit. Of course, we don’t have to pay a mortgage.
Q: How do costumes and props or other essentials of a Broadway musical factor here; does Paliku save previous wardrobes so you could recycle for this production, or did you have to muster up all needs for the cast from scratch?
A: We went with minimal costumes over black and white actor-provided basics. We don’t have a huge wardrobe area, but after 10 years, we have many bins full of basic stuff from shows we have done. Overdressing is fairly easy, and my new costumer for this particular show has many connections with other sources. We already had basic stage building materials. Unlike the last two shows we did as fundraisers in 2005 and 2007, all the professional staff is getting paid for this one, and I kept the top price to a reasonable $26 to try and dodge the “Lion King” effect of “Wicked” (when touring shows sapped discretional entertainment budgets for theater fans). Low costs equal low risk.
Q: Moot point now, since you're doing a musical revue; but what "book" show were you seeking for this fall slot?
A: Even before “Phantom of the Opera” closed, I had received the perusal script for “Evita.” I figured it hadn’t been done by anybody major in years, it was Andrew Lloyd-Webber, and it was reopening on Broadway. I found out after we decided to do this revue that Jade Stice would have jumped at playing Evita, so she’s singing “Argentina” in this show. We can’t do another book show until UH legal breaks the logjam over the wording in stock contracts issued by R&H (Rodgers & Hammerstein) and all the other major players.
Q: Ron Bright has, indeed, been a Bright Light on theater on the Windward side. How would you assess his contribution to the performing arts?
A: Certainly on the Windward side, RB created a tradition of singling out raw talent, motivating them to do their best, respect others and give their all. Castle, Kaimuki and Mililani all have PAC (Performing Arts Center) programs that can be traced directly back to what he started. At the same time, the funding for state-supported performing arts education has plummeted, but there are now many groups who, as private organizations, continue the legacy he created. We are fortunate to have four of them using Paliku as their final performance venue: Paliku Academy of Performing Arts (PAPA), Hawaii Education for the Arts (HEARTS), Diamond in the Rough productions (Applause Performance Academy) and Children’s Theatre of Oahu (CTO.) More and more I feel like a proud parent because we have young performers in our mainstage productions who have first performed here as children as many as 10 years ago; people like Jonah Hookano, Lucas Cusick and Niki Badua, many of whom are on shows like “Hawaii Five-0” or in NYC getting cast in Broadway shows. It’s nothing like the epic “Miss Saigon” days, but Mr. Bright continues to nurture these young people like he did at Castle, and it is an honor and privilege to work with him here at Paliku!
“Broadway @ Paliku: 10 Years of Bright Lights”
7:30 p.m. Sept. 28, 29, Oct. 5 and 6
4 p.m. Sept. 30, Oct. 7
Lone extension performance: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 3
Paliku Theatre, Windward Community College
$26 adults, $24 seniors 62 and older and military, $20 students