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Bright’s family and friends recall theater maven’s life

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  • Ronald E. Bright, who died Tuesday at the age of 81, was a giant in the local theater community .

Ronald E. Bright, 81, the beloved and iconic theater director, was generous and genuine in his compassion and concern for his craft, his family, his actors.

He gave unselfishly — to actors, dancers, musicians and techies — to bring out the best in everyone and demonstrate the potential and potency of chasing a dream.

His death Tuesday at Castle Medical Center of complications from vasculitis, a condition causing inflammation of the blood vessels, leaves a huge void in the Hawaii theater community. For five decades he toiled at staging shows in which even neophytes could find a spot. He never regarded a role as insignificant and believed that all roles were contributions to a vibrant canvas of powerful bonding and communal achievement.

And it all started at home, the pulse of Bright’s might and light, according to son Clarke Bright, who spoke on behalf of his siblings, Michael Bright and Jodi Bright Stein.

Clarke, who was usually in the orchestra pit, conducting the orchestra for his dad’s productions, also is bandmaster of the city’s Royal Hawaiian Band.

"It is truly difficult to put into words how we feel about our dad and the legacy he leaves with all of us," he said in an emailed statement. "We’d like to focus on a part of his life that some may not be aware of. In all his uncompromised artistic excellence, I truly feel some of his greatest work happened within the confines of his home. Artists of his magnitude often lead compromised family lives in pursuit of personal dreams. Not only were his dreams wrapped in his students, but we — his family — never, ever felt as if we had to play second fiddle to his art.

"We always knew how much he loved his students and that only made us love him more. As proud as he was of his students, we always felt so special. Whether into rehearsals or shows, as soon as his family arrived he would stop what he was doing to make us feel like a million dollars. Loving us this way also taught his students the importance of family. We were always around the theater, not because we had to, but because we wanted to — so much so that some of our best friends to this day are a result of the relationships formed in the midst of his productions. He never forced us to be part of his productions. But how could we not? There was sooooo much love. Our occupations today are a direct result of the impact we saw every day from our Daddy.

"With all that said, if we had to choose one thing we are most proud and appreciative of, it would be the way he loved his wife, our mom (Moira, or Mo). She really is the heartbeat of this family — both here and at the theater. I know our biggest gift to him would be to live in a manner that would make him proud. He left us so many wonderful examples."

He added: "A hui hou (until we meet again), Poppo!!" …

MEMORIES: Kip Wilborn, who played Jean Valjean in the Bright-directed "Les Mise­rables," said, "He was truly a conduit through which God was able to spread joy and touch people’s lives. The grace and love that is at the center of the story was also at the center of the stage director’s life." …

As a 30-year production manager for Bright (and now a teacher at Kaimiloa Elementary in Ewa Beach), Allan Lau had a ringside seat to his mentor’s manner, taking notes for shows and frequently performing onstage. "He never missed an opportunity to educate us — about life, family, caring for each other, the art form he loved so much. He was an educator at heart, both in the theater and in his home." …

Johnson Enos, a former student who now is producer-creator of the "Honu by the Sea" environmental musical, said, "If there is one moment that stays in my heart, it was when Mr. B was preparing to open the musical production of ‘The Wiz.’ He sat me down by the piano and played the song ‘Believe in Yourself,’ and it became clear that Mr. Bright believed in all of us." …

The Broadway musical landscape has been dotted with Bright-mentored talent, including Cole Horibe, now performing in "The King and I" at Lincoln Center, and earlier triumphs by Cliffton Hall in "Wicked" and "Miss Saigon," Jewl Anguay Carney in "The Lion King," Mahi‘ai Kekumu in "Aida" and Jade Anguay Bright and Zoey Anguay Camat in "Miss Saigon," among others. …

And that’s "Show Biz." …

Wayne Harada is a veteran entertainment columnist; reach him at 266-0926 or; read his “Show and Tell Hawaii” blog at

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