Mark my words. Daebreon Poiema’s superstar turn as bodacious nightclub chantooze Deloris Van Cartier turned bogus Catholic nun Mary Clarence will have Southland audiences standing up and cheering Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theatre’s latest crowd-pleaser, the screen-to-stage Broadway hit musical Sister Act.

14711085_1787891221479637_7633002539592566283_o Like the 1992 movie that inspired it, Sister Act The Musical places its hapless heroine in the wrong place at the wrong time (eyewitness to her gangster boyfriend’s latest hit) with nowhere to find refuge but a local nunnery, surroundings in which she sticks out like a sore thumb.

Not surprisingly, it takes little to no time for the freshly dubbed Sister Mary Clarence to find herself at loggerheads with the convent’s by-the-Holy-Book Mother Superior (Debbie Prutsman).

14753888_1787892031479556_8433966998897589534_o Less expected, perhaps, is how very quickly the reluctant sister bonds with her fellow nuns, most particularly with incurably upbeat Sister Mary Patrick (Brittany Tangerman), meek-and-mild postulant Sister Mary Robert (Michaelia Leigh), and ever crotchety Sister Mary Lazarus (Dynell Leigh).

Given the task of whipping the convent’s unharmonious choir into musical shape, Sister Mary Clarence finds her coaching so effective that before you know it, Sunday parishioners are filling the pews like never before, the choir and its director are attracting media attention, and police detective Eddie Souther (Fabio Antonio), who engineered Deloris’s convent hideout, begins to worry that media attention will give away her safe haven and have her gangster boyfriend Curtis (Pete Cole) and his Three Stooges henchmen Pablo (Marcos Alexander), Joey (Robert Hoyt), and TJ (Christopher Mosley) showing up at the convent doors, pistols in hand.

14711325_1787891608146265_5626644242653151284_o Already an audience favorite in its 2006 World Premiere at the Pasadena Playhouse, Sister Act boosts a surefire storyline, a colorful disco-era late 1970s time frame, and a bunch of Alan Menken melodies to rival the composer’s best.

The Broadway version (book once again by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner but with additional material by Douglas Carter Beane) savvily retains all of this, including Deloris’s “Take Me To Heaven” and “Fabulous, Baby,” plus some new ditties including a sisterhood-celebrating Menkin/Glenn Sater title song.

Director-choreographer John Vaughan has once again inspired some absolutely terrific performances on the Candlelight stage while giving his gaggle of singing-dancing nuns plenty of fancy footwork to do (even if we can scarcely see feet beneath habits).

14559990_1787891081479651_6461483565112805609_o The dazzling Poiema not only gives Deloris glamour, sass, pluck, beauty, and heart, her pop star pipes provide a certain Donna a run for her disco queen money, a feat rendered even more remarkable considering that the supremely versatile Poiema’s Scenie-winning L.A. debut had this reviewer raving about “a soprano to rival a certain Audra’s.”

Fresh from her eight-tentacled scene-stealing. Scenie-winning featured villainess turn as The Little Mermaid’s Ursula The Sea Monster, Prutsman once again proves herself a SoCal treasure as the dry-humored but secretly warm-hearted Mother Superior, and just wait till the Prutsman brings down the house with a goose bump-raising “Haven’t Got A Prayer.”

14714884_1787892431479516_5096312164487460948_o Meriting their own cheers are Tangerman’s irrepressibly perky Sister Mary Patrick, Leigh’s wise-cracking, rhyme-busting Sister Mary Lazarus, and Leigh’s radiant Sister Mary Patrick, the latter stopping the show with a heartfelt, gorgeously sung “The Me I Never Knew.”

Supporting sisters Angela Baumgardner (Sister Mary Martin-Of-Tours), dance captain Deborah Fauerbach, Anjanique Jewell (Michelle), Kylie Molnar, Kirklyn Robinson (Sister Mary Theresa), Katie Roche, and Jennifer Webb delight and harmonize to perfection, with snaps to musical director Andrew Orbison.

Alexander, Hoyt, and Mosley could not make for a more adorably dumb-dumber-and-dumberer Larry, Moe, and Curly, their “Lady In A Long Black Dress” a triple-threat talent showcase for all three.

Antonio’s nerdy charmer of an Eddie, Cole’s mean and nasty Curtis, and Jamie Snyder’s Irish-brogued Monsignor O’Hara all have their winning moments, with Christopher Nevarez and Dominique Lopez Petit Frere stepping into a gaggle of amusing cameos.

14681972_1787892478146178_5809223697129571550_o Gregory Hiatt’s costumes (provided by Circa ’21 Dinner Playhouse and coordinated by Merrill Grady and Karen Curry) are all thumbs-up winners, with special snaps to a number of split-second switches worthy of their own applause.

Chuck Ketter’s multi-locale set, Michon Gruber-Gonzales’ ‘70s wigs (allowing nuns to double as Deloris backups, barflies, and disco queens), Steve Giltner and StreetLite LLC lighting, and a crystal-sound mix of live vocals and prerecorded tracks complete Sister Act’s production design mix.

14720387_1787892241479535_339521497590021878_n Daniel Bride is stage manager. Orlando Montes is technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director John LaLonde.

The warbling sisters of The Sound Of Music and Nunsense (and even Sœur Sourire herself) may have their legions of fans, but they can’t hold a votive candle to Sister Act’s heavenly choir, not with Daebreon Poiema burning up the Candlelight stage as Deloris Van Cartier. Talk about “Fabulous, Baby!” Poiema’s Deloris is all that, and then some!

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Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.

–Steven Stanley
October 23, 2106

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