Veteran helps christen theater with 'Fiddler'
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
"This new building recharges my batteries," said Bright, the retired Castle High School drama mentor who's still very active theatrically. He is directing Windward Community College's "Fiddler on the Roof," starting Thursday, in the spanking new arts complex in the shadows of the Ko'olau Mountains.
"I felt so good when they asked me to do their first big show at this new theater," he said.
Bright, an advocate of drama and a beacon of talent development on the Windward side, seems busier than ever since retiring from active teaching in 1993.
Work keeps him young, active and involved, he said.
"The college needed help; they wanted a community production," said Bright. "I wanted a show that could tap youngsters all the way up to adults."
His first show choice was "The Sound of Music," for obvious reasons. But he had to seek an alternate production when Diamond Head Theatre included the Rodgers & Hammerstein evergreen as its December showpiece.
"Few people came to audition at first," Bright said of "Fiddler," the Jerry Bock-Sheldon Harnick musical about the Jewish milkman committed to tradition but faced with changes. "But in the end, I was able to round up a cast of 50 and some great voices. We're all thrilled to be in a new building."
Indeed, Steve Wagenseller, who is cast in the lead role of Tevye, called Paliku Theatre "a gem."
"It's a big role for me, and a wonderful opportunity to play one of the great characters," said Wagenseller, a Punahou School teacher. "The best thing is the fact that we wear no mikes. The voices come right out of our mouths. The acoustics are terrific, though I've not sung with a full audience. It's quite like the Hawai'i Theater and a nice addition to the Windward side of the island."
Of Bright, Wagenseller said: "He's like a coach. Very patient. Very helpful. And know what? He can do all the dances better than anyone else."
For Bright, "Fiddler" is somewhat of a homecoming and reunion, with behind-the-scenes principals who toiled with him during this Castle days.
His son, Clarke Bright, is musical director. Longtime collaborator Lloyd "Sandy" Riford is set designer. Ry'n Sabado, a co-founder of the award-winning 24/7 DanceForce group and a vital part of the Castle dance ensembles, is choreographer. Among former students, Jana Anguay is portraying Hodel, one of Tevye's five daughters, so there's a spirit of 'ohana behind the scenes.
Bright had directed "Fiddler" twice: in 1965 at Benjamin Parker Elementary School, and in the late 1980s at the Ronald E. Bright Theatre at Castle.
Apparently, retirement is not in his vocabulary.
"After 'Fiddler,' I'll be doing a show called 'Music USA: From Country to Broadway' at Castle High School, with students from the fifth through eighth grades. It opens Feb. 16.
"Then, in late April or early May, I'm tapped to help in a Kamehameha Schools musical revue, where my grandson, now in the fifth grade, will be performing. I've been asked, too, to do a home-school show. The thing is, when you retire, you can make choices. I guess you can choose the wrong thing, but (he sighs), I choose just about everything, because I enjoy the work."
For Wagenseller, "Fiddler" has been an opportunity to explore one of the great musical roles. "Tevye is likeable, struggling with a change of his belief, and yet, he's not always nice," said Wagenseller. "He yells, he blusters; but he's not a bully. He's just having trouble adjusting to a newer world, something we all do as we all get older. For me, it's a chance to leave my woes at the doorsteps and experience his problems, which make mine seem simple."
"There's a neat continuum going on again," he said of the magnetic nature of the talent drawn to Paliku. "We have some kids from the Windward side, who'll go on to Castle. And about 10 from the university. It's like the old days."
There's already a buzz about a summertime musical at Paliku, with Bright at the helm. He's far from actually doing something, since his travel plans are fluid and his wife, Mo, is retiring shortly.
"There's great support from the university, but hardly a budget," said Bright. "We're hoping to build a nest egg with this production to help future productions."