An Olympian effort to remember Ron Bright — and it's Gold standard
The Bright brand is one singular sensation — for one night only
“Brighter Still,” that musical tribute to the late educator-director Ron Bright, was a singular sensation last night (Aug. 6) at the Hawaii Theatre.
With Olympian effort and astonishing polish — call it a Gold Medal triumph — a performing cast of more than 100 assembled in the historic theater to pay tribute to their mentor, whose career stretched over five decades and perhaps three generations of student actors.
It was a one-night sell-out that will not be easily forgotten. Lucky you, if you attended; there won’t easily be another like this jewel.
In the aftermath:
- The newly-organized I’m A Bright Kid Foundation, which sponsored the show as a salute to Mr. B to kick off an effort to perpetuate his legacy, is off to a very good start. Prior to the show, $70,000 in donations had been amassed to launch the foundation; box office tallies are not yet in, but the momentum is likely to mount as organizers develop a campaign to continue to keep the Bright flame flickering.
- The performing arts — especially the Bright brand — earned unquestionable validation, through a three-hour parade of unending jubilation and unforgettable highs, where familiar voices and faces created an awesome quilt work, albeit updated, from about two dozen shows mounted by Bright during his tenure. With few exceptions, most of the troupers were community actors, not professionals, but every one delivered pro-caliber performances. Oh, Mr. B must have been jubilant from his heavenly roost.
- Clearly, Mr. B taught his kids well, both as teacher and director. At least 34 adults in the company are now educators, in essence sharing what they learned about show biz, and how it impacts on the essence of life: learn, strive, believe.
- Bright’s ohana certainly extends far and beyond his kids (natural and hanae); even spectators consider themselves part of his family, with ripples of support originating from regularly attending his shows over the decades and now in memoriam. Simply put, his spirit lives in the hearts of darn nearly everyone he touched — through onstage performances, through audience applause.
With collaborative direction, staging and choreography by Jade Stice, Allan Lau and Clarke Bright, “Brighter Still” obviously was an endearing labor of love. It had his fingerprints in much of the fare, with song choices that something to say, with execution reflecting some of his ways.
The show was scripted by John Bryan and Jodi Leong, who also served as co-emcees, and largely reunited Mr. B’s artistic team: musical direction by Clarke Bright, his eldest son; orchestrations by Joe Pacheco and Todd Yukumoto; vocal arrangements by Mary Hicks, who also directed, joined by Bryan; choreography by Marcelo Pacleb and Mark Kanemura, from 24-VII Danceforce; tech direction by Jack Hufstetler; sets by Lloyd S. Riford III, lighting by Riford and Leo Uitto; and sound by Kainoa Jarrett. The family that plays together, stays together is the unofficial mantra.
- Solos: Kip Wilborn’s “Bring Him Home,” from “Les Miserables;” Jordan Shanahan’s “The Impossible Dream,” from “The Man of La Mancha;” Mary Hicks’ “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again,” from “The Phantom of the Opera.” They could easily have come off a national touring show.
- Duets: Michael Bright’s and Jade Bright’s “The Last Night of the World,” from “Miss Saigon;” Jacquelyn Holland-Wright’s and Jade Stice’s “Wizard of Oz”-inspired montage of “Over the Rainbow” from “Oz,” “Home” from “The Wiz” and “For Good” from “Wicked.” While the former was in context of the popular Broadway blockbuster, the latter reflected ingenuity and creativity in tapping three ingredients to concoct a savory dish.
- Trios: Kim Anderson’s (Tessie Tura), Jana Anguay Alcain’s (Mazeppa) and Sarah Gamiao Kukuna’s (Electra) “You Gotta Have a Gimmick,” from “Gypsy;” Ligaya Stice’s, Zare Anguay’s and Johnson Enos’ “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Hey There” medley from “The Pajama Game;” Tracy Yamamoto and Zare Anguay’s “It Had to Be You,” from “It Had to Be You,” with links to a plethora of films, and Buz Tennent’s “Some Enchanted Evening,” from “South Pacific;” and Sonya Mendez’s, Erin Wong’s and Nikki Yamamoto’s Andrews Sisters medley, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The first set was a reflection of Mr. B’s penchant for comedy, the second from the first musical he ever directed, and the third linked to his post-wartime venture into music.
- Comic caper: Kimee Balmilero’s “My New Philosophy,” from “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” with KoDee Martin and Kala’au. Whimsy worked, in the right hands.
- A Bright Bard: Timothy Bright’s (Mr. B’s grandson, son of Clarke Bright) eloquent “All the World’s a Stage” segment from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” ‘Twas the evening’s lone spoken (vs. sung or danced) moment — purposeful, and surely something Poppa would have endorsed.
- Flasback moments: Jodi Leong and Tony Young, on “Good Morning Starshine,” from “Hair,” with children ensemble members Colton Bright, Drew Bright, Mati Durkin, Georgia Finley, Jet Finley, Alyse Glaser, Daniel Guillou, Lainey Hicks, Adam Hufstetler, Elijah Hufstetler, Azaliah Kekuna, Caris Leong, Camille Perry, Tani Siu, Mia Stein and Maya Yoshida. The segment was linked to a future Hokule’a-vessel/Polynesian Voyaging Society mission to navigate an actual star, to be named in honor of Mr. B, coinciding with his upcoming Sept. 10 birhday.
- Taking a risque: The “Big Spender” number, from “Sweet Charity,” featuring Leesa Souza (Nickie), Cyndi Mayo-Davis (Helene), from “Sweet Charity,” with a splendid ensemble featuring Kim Anderson, Caity Bright, Jaime Craycroft, Katrina Johnston, Sarah Gamiaao Kekuna, Tracy Reddekopp, Jade Stice, Ligaya Stice, Paraluman Stice-Durkin, Audra Uitto, Erin Wong, Rachel Wong and Ann Yoshida. A powerful and potent demonstration of the song-and-dance savvy, with an adult twinkle.
- May the Danceforce Be With You: “The Rich Man’s Frug,:” from “Sweet Charity,” performed by unnamed troupers from 24/7 Danceforce. Another sizzler of motion and marvel, with equal parts coordination and concentration.
- Handclappingest hottie: The sit-down-and-handclap “Our Favorite Son” moment from “The Will Rogers Follies,” reinvented local style to the tune of “Molokai Nui Ahina,” featuring Zare Anguay, Caity Bright, Miguel Cadoy III, Norman Dabalos, Nicole Enos, Bryce-William Irvine, Katrina Johnson, Allan Lau, Jodi Leong, KoDee Martin, Audra Uitto, Cris Pasquil, Ki Quilloy, Jim Reddekopp, Leonard Villanueva, Rachel Wong and Ann Yoshida. Hands down, the most unexpected fun and awe of the night.
- Damn delightful: An ensemble rendering of “Heart,” from “Damn Yankees,” featuring Zare Anguay, Miguel Cadoy, Norman Dabalos, Shawn Enos, Erick DeRyke, Bryce-William Irvine, Allan Lau, KoDee Martin, Devon Necoba, Miguel Paekukui, Cris Pasquil, Johnny Pastor, Ki Quilloy, Jim Reddekopp, Chris Slavels and Leonard Villanueva. The lyrics underline the Bright philosophy: Ya gotta have heart, in all your pursuits, not only in love and in life.
- Now Hair this:: A lengthy “Hairspray” montage, featuring “Good Morning Baltimore,” “You’re Timeless to Me,” and “You Can’t Stop the Music,” from the final Bright-directed musical, featuring Pomai Lopez, Leonard Villaneuva, Johnny Reed and Umi-Sua’ava and the 24/VII Danceforce company. A recreation of the flounce and bounce, capitalizing on the resourceful talents of singers, dancers, et. Al.
- Small world wonder: The 60-member Kamehameha Schools Children’s Chorus, offering a medley of Disney favorites. Imagine if these Lynette Bright-led youngsters become Bright Lights of the future. Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.
- One Man Wonder: Emcee John Bryan’s “What a Wonderful World/Glory of Love” vocal and ukulele medley was the evening’s rarity: he sang, he strummed, he wowed ‘em.
- Hawaiian kine: The only Hawaiian song, “Hilo, My Hometown,” was intended to be biographical, tracing Mr. B’s Big Island roots and his bonding with wife Mo; Kalani Poomaihealani sang, Geri Vasconcellos hula’d, amid a charming slideshow of Bright’s earlier years before his Oahu relocation.
- Tear-jerker: The en masse rendering of “If You Believe,” from “The Wiz,” began with a cluster of soloists, enlarging to a flashmob of ensemble performers, further growing (and spilling into the front rows of the theater) a community of adults and keiki, unified in song and in spirit, rendering what might easily be dubbed the Alma Mater of A Bright Kid Foundation. It was the tune Mr. B taught all his believers and there were believers chiming in from the rafters, too.
- Opening/closing sensation: The calvacade opened with a Zare Anguay, John Brian, Katrina Johnson, Allan Lau, Jodi Leong, Jade Stice, Erin Wong, Leonard Villaneuva and Tony Young dancing the iconic “One” closing number from “A Chorus Line” (yes, with gold top hats and vests), leading to the obligatory kick lineup, joined by sisters Chris Slavens, Ligaya Stice, Mati Durkin, Tracy Yamamoto and Devon Nekoba; and yes, the “he’s the one” lyric pointedly singling out Mr. B; the curtain call tune also was “One,” initially as an instrumental, and concluding with the final refrains of vocals.
The applause has faded, but the memories linger; the question now facing actors, dancers, techies, fans and friends is obvious: How does “Brighter Still” remain relevant and real? Support and allegiance, with buzz and shared online chats. Another way: A donation will help carry on the legacy. Mail donations to:
I’m A Bright Kid Foundation
P.O. Box 4852
Kaneohe HI 96744