Don’t get me wrong. I love Whoopi Goldberg. She is a wonderful actress and comedienne. However, after attending the opening night of Sister Act at the Moonlight Amphitheater, I have come to the conclusion that there is a new gal in town, at least for Sister Act. I know, I know, Whoopi made Sister Act famous and she was absolutely great in the movie. For the stage production of Sister Act at Vista’s Moonlight amphitheater, Daebreon Poiema took the role of Deloris Van Cartier and took it to the top. If Whoopi could have been there, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see her on her feet with the rest of the audience giving Miss Poiema and the entire cast a resounding ovation. Steven Glaudini, producing artistic director, Moonlight Stage Productions told us that Daebreon “Owns the role”.
While Poiema’s presentation was flawless and enthralling, the singing and acting in this performance by all the cast was strong and powerful. The talented cast for “Sister Act” includes: Daebreon Poiema (Deloris Van Cartier), Victoria Strong (Mother Superior), Rufus Bonds, Jr. (Curtis Jackson), Cornelius Jones, Jr. (“Sweaty Eddie” Souther), Bethany Slomka (Sister Mary Patrick), Sarah Errington (Sister Mary Robert), Susan Stuber (Sister Mary Lazarus), and Jim Chovick (Monsignor O’Hara). I know I’m not expert theater critic but I’m a big fan of live theater. I’ve seen the original performances of Cats and Phantom of the Opera and this was just as good. I’m not alone in my opinion because the entire audience loved this version of Sister Act too.
This version of Sister Act is set in Philadelphia in the 70’s. The music and costumes reflect the time period. The story is basically the same as the movie. When a gangster’s girl singer witnesses him committing a murder she runs for her life and ends up hiding in a Catholic church that has severe attendance problems. Just as Deloris breathes new life into the church, Daebreon breathes new life into the role as the Va-Va-Voom Deloris Van Cartier. The comedy had audience members laughing out loud, rocking to the music, and applauding wildly. “Sister Act” is an inspired musical comedy featuring an original score by Alan Menken and Glenn Slater.
Sister Act won’t be the first Moonlight season performance to receive great reviews. Last year’s shows garnered high praise and awards from the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle, San Diego Magazine, San Diego Union-Tribune, and Tripadvisor.com. Now in the 36th season, the Moonlight Amphitheater has grown from humble roots as a City of Vista “Park and Rec” program to what some now call “San Diego’s #1 Outdoor Theatre” and the “Crown Jewel” of Vista.
One of the reasons the Moonlight venue is so popular (aside from the amazing artistic talent) is the quality of the staff. Unlike the other media that covers the Moonlight shows, I always try to talk with the little people working in the parking lots, the café, and the aisles. You know, the tickets sellers, the food servers, the security, the parking lot attendants, and the super friendly volunteer ushers. On Opening night for Sister Act we were greeted by a very friendly Brandon who told me this was his first day as an employee at the Moonlight. Once inside we were warmly greeted by volunteers Greg and Patty Coffee. They have lived in Vista for 5 years and have been volunteering at the Moonlight for the last 3 years.
I did talk with the big people. I saw and talked with, Judy Ritter (Mayor of Vista), Cody Campbell (Vista Council member), Amanda Young Rigby (Vista Council member), John Aguilera (Vista Council member), Dave Cowles, Brad Peterson, Barbara Meech, Toria Watson (MCF CEO), Steve Glaudini (Producing Artistic Director), and Dan Kays (Managing Director) who cautioned us with enthusiasm and a grin that Sister Act would “Knock our socks off”. Glaudini answered my question about not seeing familiar names in the cast list by saying, “Moonlight has a name and the actors are coming to us now”.
Before the curtain went up Steve Glaudini, Toria Watson, Mayor Ritter, and Dan Kays honored the many supporters and donors that make the Moonlight Amphitheater possible. Moonlight Cultural Foundation’s sponsors include: Muriel & Hans Schiff, Forte For Children, Datron World Communications, Issa Family Foundation, Modern Builders Supply, Vista Valley Country Club, Gardenology, Cox, Scripps, Edward Jones (Brad Peterson), Pacific Marine Credit Union, Atlantic & Pacific Management, DEI Holdings (Jim Minarik, CEO), ArtBeat on MainStreet, and Scatena Daniels Communications. The foundation also honored Barbara Meech as the volunteer of the year. Hundreds of other donors were listed in the program.
The production and design team for Sister Act included: John Vaughan, director and choreographer; Lyndon Pugeda, musical director and conductor; Jean-Yves Tessier, lighting designer; Carlotta Malone, Roz Lehman, and Renetta Lloyd, costume execution; Jim Zadai, sound designer; Bonnie Durben, properties designer; Peter Herman, wig design; and Stanley Cohen, stage manager.
The Moonlight Cultural Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, was formed in 1974 and is the fundraising arm as well as the producing partner for Moonlight Stage Productions. In addition to providing funds for Moonlight Stage Productions, the Foundation plans and presents the Moonlight Youth Theater education program and also supports educational and community arts outreach programs. Community and financial support is essential to our mission to promote culture and diversity through theatre that unites the community. With financial, marketing, and program support from the Foundation, Moonlight Stage Productions is now regarded as one of Southern California’s most professional and mature arts institutions.
I interviewed two of the cast as they left back stage. Bethany Slomka (Sister Mary Patrick) is new to the Moonlight having previously performed at the San Diego Repertory theatre. Her fan base was in the audience to cheer for her. Susan Stuber (Sister Mary Lazarus) is a graduate of the San Diego School of Performing Arts and has been seen at The Welk. Both gals were excited to be in Sister Act and both gave terrific performances.
“Sister Act” continues Thursday through Sunday nights (June 30 – July 2). Starting July 20 is Peter Pan, followed by “Titanic The Musical on Aug 17” and “The Addams Family – A New Musical Comedy” on sept 14. Attending these shows will make the following available to theater goers; Moonlight’s restaurant, the Artisan Café, operated by Chef David Krohn, picnic locations, Reserved seating or Reserved Lawn Seating, and great family fun.
Just before the Sister Act show started Steven Glaudini, producing artistic director of Moonlight Stage Productions, announced the 2017 season at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. For Moonlight’s season 37, he announced the San Diego Regional Premieres of Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Sunset Boulevard,” along with the Moonlight premieres of Elton John’s “Aida” and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights”. Glaudini told the packed audience that “All four shows are making their Moonlight debuts”. “The season truly offers a musical style for all to experience.”
For more info and to purchase tickets visit moonlightfoundation.com or call (760) 630-7650.