On the Big Screen: Locals To Appear in Whitney Houston Movie

Phunk Phenomenon dance choreographer and instructor Devin Woolridge and teenage dancer Maya Sutton will appear in the new Whitney Houston movie, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which hits theaters nationwide this Dec. 23.

The Phunk Phenomenon Dance Complex has a studio in Everett and is owned by former New England Patriots cheerleader Reia Briggs-Connor, whose husband Rick Connor, is an Everett Police officer.

Reia Briggs-Connor (center),
owner of Phunk Phenomenon
Dance Complex in Everett, is pictured with studio choreographer and instructor Devin Woolridge (right) and dance student Maya Sutton, who will be appearing as back-up dancers the Whitney Houston movie, “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which premieres Friday.

At the popular studio this week, the excitement was brewing for the premiere of the movie about Houston, one of the greatest vocalists of all time.

“It’s awesome to have two people from our studio in this movie,” said Briggs-Connor. “Devin is an amazing choreographer and performer, and Maya is a tremendously talented dancer for L’il Phunk. We are so excited that Devin and Maya have this incredible opportunity to be featured in a major motion picture. I can’t wait to see them on screen.”

Woolridge, 37, will appear in the movie as a back-up dancer to singer and songwriter Bobby Brown, who is being portrayed by Ashton Sanders. Sutton, a 13-year-old, eighth-grade student, will appear as a back-up dancer to Whitney Houston, who is being portrayed in the movie by Naomi Ackie.

Woolridge is an international award-winning dancer and choreographer who holds a degree in Fashion Design and Merchandising from Fisher College.

Woolridge previously appeared in the movie, “Ghostbusters 2,” and performed with Phunk on the TV reality show, “America’s Best Dance Crew.” He also performed in Hip Hop International and was featured in a videogame, “Dance Central,” for Xbox 360.

Woolridge is especially excited about his role in the Whitney Houston movie because his mother, Robin Woolridge, was a huge fan of the best-selling musical artist.

“My mother was the biggest fan of Whitney Houston,” said Woolridge. “She was a singer and used to perform Whitney Houston songs, and I became familiar with her music. It’s really heartwarming to see Naomi Ackie act as Whitney and hear her sing these songs that my mother used to play all the time.”

Woolridge said his scene in the movie was filmed last year at the Wang Theatre in Boston.

“The set was made to look like the Soul Train Music Awards,” related Woolridge. “It took two days of rehearsals for the choreography, which consisted of old-school dance moves.”

Woolridge was humbled by being selected for a role in the movie. Hundreds of dancers auditioned for the role.

“I was glad I was picked for the movie because there are so many talented dancers in Boston,”said Woolridge, who will be heading to theater Friday to view the movie.

Maya Sutton, daughter of Gregory Sutton and Cathy Sutton, has been a hip-hop dancer at Phunk Phenomenon for four years. She has performed for Lil Phunk at Boston Celtics home games in front of 19,000 fans at TD Garden. Her brother, Isaiah, 15, is a current dancer at Phunk. An older sister, Jada, is a former dancer at Phunk.

In the movie, Maya is one of three dancers backing up Naomi Ackie to the song, “I’m Every Woman.” The concert scene was filmed in November (2021) at the House of Blues in Boston.

“It’s really exciting to be in the movie,” said Maya. “The whole process was a great experience. Everyone was so nice when we were filming our scene.”

Maya said she is thankful to Briggs-Connor and her staff for developing her dancing skills and being an inspiration in her life.

“I just want people to know what a great person Reia is, and she really loves what she does,” said Sutton. “She is such a great influence to all of her students.”

Cathy Sutton also expressed her gratitude to Phunk for setting the foundation to her daughter being selected among hundreds of dancers for a role in the movie.

“It’s very, very exciting,” said Cathy. “We didn’t expect it. It was an amazing opportunity and we’re so proud of her. We’re so thankful to Phunk for giving her this opportunity. The actress, Naomi Ackie, who plays Whitney, was super nice. It was just a really cool experience for Maya and the other girls to go through hair and makeup, then actually be filmed for the movie, and see how the whole movie scene takes place.”

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