Bensalem’s Joy Woffindin is no stranger to the world of dance, having received training in classical ballet at a young age. During her adolescent years, she wasn’t exactly sure what a professional career in this industry would look like for her, or if it would even be feasible. But in adulthood, she couldn’t be happier with what her skills are being utilized for: helping local performers of all ages and experience levels shine on stage.
Woffindin is the choreographer for Newtown Arts Company’s production of Sister Act, on stage April 27-30, at the historic Newtown Theatre.
“I decided to go to college and not to pursue ballet professionally, but to come back around and be able to use my dance training for something that I never really thought that I would, it’s very rewarding,” she said. “Especially to be able to use the skills that some of my great teachers used and pass that along.”
This stage version of the hit Whoopi Goldberg movie takes place in the ‘70s and, unlike the film’s setting of San Francisco, the nearby city of Philadelphia (yes, there will be a Wawa mention). Therefore, Woffindin got to study YouTube videos of Motown and incorporate some fun disco moves.
She began her choreography process by conducting research on the stage show, which includes a score by Alan Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast).
“Then what I like to do is, I actually physically look at the score. I get a copy of the score that the music director gets. I like to look at the music and kind of write my choreography down right over top of the score,” she said. “That’s how I visualize it.”
Next, Woffindin tailors her choreography to the cast, who are all volunteers. While some shows she choreographed for Newtown Arts Company, such as The Wedding Singer, required cast members to have strong dance skills, that’s not the case with Sister Act.
The ensemble of nuns encompasses everyone from teens to adults who haven’t hit the stage in several decades. No matter where they are in their theater journey, Woffindin wants them all to feel confident when performing her routines. If something just isn’t working, she’s more than happy to pivot.
“We want it to be fun. We want it to be a great and professional looking experience for the audience, but I need to keep in mind who I’m working with and make sure that everyone is comfortable and believes they can do their best with the level of what I’m giving them,” she said. “We do have a couple girls who are in high school still. There’s a couple of girls that are right out of college, all the way up to people who are retired, who it’s their first time on stage in 20 years.”
When asked if there’s a number that Woffindin is particularly excited for audiences to see in Sister Act, she said the uplifting church scenes — when the nuns’ high-energy vocals are bringing in passersby — are sure to impress. She also enjoyed bringing to life a scene that’s not in the Goldberg film.
“There’s a number with a character who is not really in the movie, he has an expanded storyline and is a Philadelphia police officer. He has a crush on the main character. They went to high school together and he has almost a dream sequence where he’s imagining, ‘Oh, maybe I could be that guy. I could be that cool guy if I just get up the confidence.’ And he has a surprise costume change reveal that occurs in the middle of his dance number, and it turns into a disco thing,” she said. “I’m super excited to see it come together. There are a few things like that which will take people by surprise, which I’m looking forward to.”
For Woffindin, Newtown Arts Company is becoming like a second home. She first got involved in 2018 with a role in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, which she also ended up choreographing at the request of the director. Audiences have also seen her choreography in Cinderella at Newtown Arts Company, as well as productions with the Bucks County Gilbert & Sullivan Society in Morrisville.
Similar to other nonprofit theater organizations, Newtown Arts Company utilizes a portion of proceeds from ticket sales for scholarships. They go toward area high schoolers planning to pursue some form of the arts in college.
As opening night for Sister Act quickly approaches, Woffindin shared a few final words: “I really just think it’s gonna be a blast. It really has a lot of heart. The story is moving. Honestly, I was at rehearsal last night and I was starting to tear up, and I’ve heard them sing the songs a million times. It’s a very sweet story and has a little more depth than the movie does. And I know we’re putting a note in the program to encourage people to get up and dance in the aisles if the spirit moves them.”
If you go: Newtown Arts Company’s production of Sister Act, directed by James McCrane, hits the Newtown Theatre stage, 120 N. State St. in Newtown, on Thursday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, April 29, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, April 30, at 2 p.m. Visit newtownartscompany.com/tickets/ for more information.
Samantha Bambino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org