The take-away from Bright’s life: believe, achieve
Ron Bright taught all of us well: believe, achieve; be true to yourself; strive; family first.
At a celebration of his life Friday (Aug. 7) at First Presbyterian Church at Koolau, more than 2,000 attended to bid a fond and final aloha to Ronald E. Bright, the beloved director-educator, who was both the deacon and the beacon of things theatrical on the Windward side.
It took more than an hour for the long and shaking queue to enter the ballroom/church, though scores were directed to a spill-over sector to witness a grand “production: that would have made Bright mighty proud and happy.
His flag-draped casket lay in front of a stage that was truly theatrical, brightly and snappily lit with twin video screens on both sides that provided live footage shown on video screens. Broadcast-quality sounds and lights. And an SRO audience comprised of family, friends, fans, former colleagues, former students, former actors, and anyone marginally or totally involved in shows in the past directed by the star-maker most folks called Mr. B.
But then, there were other monikers for the masterful and magical Mr. B. Poppo, dad, husband, uncle, brother, teacher, mentor. Also, Ar Be As in RB.
The celebration was beautifully right, perfectly Bright, and occasionally light — jammed with long-lasting might.
Media were not allowed inside the hall, so I confess, I felt a skosh awkward seated amid a sea of Bright’s followers. Know that this is written as a longtime friend, fan, ally, and supporter of Bright and his brigade of theater stalwarts over the past 40-plus years.
I saw no smart phones shooting photos or videos, though occasionally, an iPhone was on (you can tell by the light) to check email. But no, no, no Instagram, Twitter or Facebook postings. Hooray! And no errant chirping/ringing phone. Double hooray.
The focus and format were spot-on clear: Honor the man who molded stars big and small in the show biz galaxy, who made everyone feel special and super in the gallery of everyday life, who directed hundreds of productions in his 50-plus-years career, often turning around lives and fortunes in the process, forsaking accounting in favor of a chosen life in education and especially theater.
All this, with religious fervor, and blessed by the grace of God, placing family first when all was said and done.
So naturally, this was totally a family affair, with immediate ‘ohana assembling with the theatrical community, worshiping with the fan-family who supposed those Bright shows for years.
Happily, the ceremony mined the genuine and honest members of the Bright kinfolk such as Caitlin, Michael and Lynne, performing “Make Me Like You.”
And the Anguay family — sisters Jade, Zoey, Jewl, Jana and Tori — musically chiming in on “His Legacy Lives On.”
And grandson Timothy, going well over the suggested five-minutes chat time, to share anecdotes, jokes, even small-kid-time songs, demonstrating why his Poppa was so special.
Another Anguay, brother Zare, offered a stunning dance while Allan Lau, a longtime Bright assistant, signed “I Can Only Imagine.”
Occasionally with tears, Gerri V., a trouper from past productions, rendered an emotional “Mr. B. With Love.”
And grandson Chris Bright assembled a grand panorama of family photos for a slide show of Poppo at home, at play and at work, while Jade Stice, another believer and achiever from the past, offering a medley of tuneful songs of admiration and aloha, including “Dear Heart” and “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
Kip Wilborn’s soaring and grand “How Great Thou Art,” Mr. B’s favorite hymn, evoked tears from the gallery of spectators, who knew how great his art was.
Son Clarke Bright’s words of appreciation reflected on the family’s powerful bond and certainly, the glue and the glory of wife/widow Mo (Moira) Bright's support in the shadow of her husband’s career, earned a rousing standing ovation and thunderous applause from those attending. I mean, when have you experienced this kind of adoration and salute in the midst of a funeral service? Then again, this was a celebration of Mr. B’s life, and this unforgettable moment will forever be etched in Mo’s memories.
Jodi Leong, a TV news broadcaster, a former Bright actor, and now part of Gov. David Ige’s staff, shared a passionate tribute to her mentor, laced with humor and heartfelt honesty, but right on the money in memorializing “This Special Man.”
And Patricia Lei Anderson Murray, another actor from yesteryear, was the perfect then-and-now figure to punctuate Bright’s luminous and lasting legacy. She shared a familiar audition song of Bright’s, “If You Believe” (from "The Wiz") and once she sang the gist of the tune that past auditioners knew, there was a join-in sing-along from the audience.
The take-away message was loud and clear. Sure, this was a time to grieve, too. But like Mr. B says: Believe. Achieve.