Hawai‘i’s performing arts community shared a bittersweet moment when Tom Holowach’s production “Hairspray” at Palikū Theatre won big at the Po’okela Awards on Aug. 10 at the Ko’olau Ballrooms.
Why bittersweet? It was the last musical production that was directed by the late Ronald E. Bright, a teacher and extraordinary director of musicals who died July 7. His memorial service took place at the Ko’olau Ballrooms on Aug. 7.
“We were just there (Ko’olau Ballrooms) Friday for the memorial service for Ron. He wasn’t present to see ʻHairspray’ … win nine awards,” said Holowach, manager of Palikū Theatre.
The Hawai‘i State Theatre Council’s Po’okela Awards are Hawai‘i’s version of the Tony Awards and recognize excellence in local theater.
“Hairspray” won nine awards in Overall Production of a Musical, Director of a Musical (Ron Bright), Musical Director (Clarke Bright and Miguel Cadoy III), Choreographer (Marcelo Pacleb), Leading Male in a Musical (Johnny Reed), Leading Female in a Musical (Pomai Lopez), Featured Male in a Musical (Leonard Villanueva), Set Design (Sandy Riford) and Costume Design (Lac Rohlf). Palikū Theatre also received the Excellence in Service Award (Jocelyn Ishihara).
Bright directed more than 85 musicals and plays at Castle High School where he taught and retired from in 1993. He also directed productions at New Hope Christian Fellowship, Kamehameha Schools and Palikū Theatre.
Bright received many accolades throughout his life such as State Teacher of the Year, University of Hawai‘i Lifetime Achievement Award, National Milken Teacher of the Year Award, Guardsman of the Year, Father of the Year, Federal Citizen of the Year and Living Treasure of Hawai‘i, to name a few.
Bright’s capacity to love was “enormous,” said Holowach. “He touched thousands and thousands of souls with his contagious smile, hearty laugh, big hugs and twinkling eyes.”
In an interview on the KHON2 television program “Living808,” former student Dr. Ligaya Stice described Bright as “a supporter in whatever you endeavored and your biggest cheerleader.” Stice also said that “feeling of community, that feeling of being a part of something larger than ourselves” was important to Bright.
Holowach is set to direct and act in “Side by Side by Sondheim,” a performance that will run Oct. 2-4 and 9-11 at Palikū Theatre and will star some of Bright’s former students, who are now professional actors. “The whole show is in tribute to Ron Bright who taught us all well the level of quality that he expected from everybody,” said Holowach.
As the saying goes, “The show must go on!” Bright’s legacy will continue.
by Debbra Baetz, Ka ‘Ohana Editor in Chief