REVIEW: “Waiting in the Wings: The Musical" — A World Premiere at Rose Center Theater

Updated: Nov 16

"A Throwback to Escapist Entertainment Staged With Tongue-In-Cheek Charm"

The tale of “naïve country boy moves to the big city to pursue his dreams” is a story as old as time, and although audiences will have to suspend a great deal of disbelief, they’ll find much charm and cheer in "Waiting in the Wings: The Musical" (Not to be confused with the 1960 play of the same name by Noël Coward.)


This zany, fun-filled song and dance musical, a collaboration of JJ Spotlight Productions and Rose Center Theater in Westminster, is making its World Premiere stage adaptation of the film, “Waiting in the Wings,” November 5th - 14th, on the beautiful Rose Center Theater stage, a blending of both art forms if you will, and filled with the hopes and dreams of the many wannabes hoping for stardom.


Directed by Tim Nelson and written by Jeffrey A. Johns (Film: “Still Waiting in the Wings,” Off-Broadway: “Camp Morning Wood”) who headlines the film, the show opened this past Friday evening, telling the story of the irrepressible Anthony (Johns) — a fresh faced gay church choir boy from Montana who dreams of moving to New York City to star in an Off-Broadway show. His golden ticket, however, is through an all-thumbs casting agency. Once he arrives, his headshot gets mixed with another group and is mistaken for a different, heterosexual hunk named Tony (Johnny Fletcher; “Oklahoma,” “My Fair Lady”) by a casting agent.



Suddenly, the crossed performers find themselves in each other’s shows: New York stripper Tony is cast as a musical dancer, and musical enthusiast Anthony is supposed to drop the covers, so to speak. Both guys know that now they have a chance of getting started on their dreams. Tony realizes that he is going to have to rely on talent instead of just his body, while Anthony (“Happy Ending”) discovers that having his dream come true means doing things he had never thought about. But like all good musical comedies — well, you just have to see it to find out.


One thing is clear though, Jeffrey Johns understands a thing or two about the ego-churning mix of camaraderie between different types of performance artists. And with his always positive, high-energy performance, mixed with the “cheeky” sex appeal from a few shirtless, oiled-up, jock-wearing supporting characters, there is real chemistry taking place, along with a realization that in order to "make it" they're going to all have to learn some new tricks.


That being said, what you CAN do is expect lots of fun. You will hear about smelling the magic of Times Square, okay that’s rotting trash…no more sleeping in your car, no more using dating apps to get meals…You’ll get introduced to the cutest little dinghy in the Navy…”now every time it rains his little dinghy gets wet.”


At first, it felt like this was going to be a satire or farce, but “Waiting in the Wings: The Musical” turns out to be something much more entertaining and satisfying — an innocent throwback to escapist entertainment that asks nothing of its audience and puts on a show that will just make you feel good. It’s a clever mash-up of “All About Eve,” “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss,” and Mickey and Judy’s “backyard musicals,” that delivers a happy ending… for anyone who deserves one, of course. That’s certainly no spoiler. As the show gets rolling, one couldn’t imagine anything else.


During this non-stop laugh-fest, we also meet the beautiful Rita (Abby Carlson; “True Love”), the leading lady of the stage musical who can really belt out a show tune. She first falls for Tony, but later becomes friendly with Anthony and decides he’s her new pet project. Anthony’s friend, Ethel (Dyan Hobday-Smith this weekend) who is something of a mother figure for him, also makes an appearance lending sweet support.


The cast obviously has a blast with the script under the savvy direction of Director Nelson’s expert guidance, and in addition to Mr. Johns and Mr. Fletcher, includes Abby Carlson as RITA, Ray Tezanos as LEE, and Daisey Tye as DELORES (1st weekend). Stephanie Bull as DELORES (2nd weekend). Complementing these bright performances are Dyan Hobday-Smith as ETHEL (1st weekend), Karen Rymar as ETHEL (2nd weekend), Mary Murphy-Nelson as TONY'S MOM, Tyler Stouffer as KELSEY, Chris Caputo as BOB, Garrett Brown as TREVOR, Trevin Stephenson as PETER, Kristen Daniels as GINA, Chris Fine as MICHAEL, Mark Wickham as DARYL, Yannis Pazianas as BEAU, Mikey Israel as BRIAN, Kristin Henry as NUN/SHELIA/ENSEMBLE, Daniel Byrne as CABARET SOLOIST/ENSEMBLE, Michael Aguirre as PHANTOM/ENSEMBLE, Andrew Soto as WILL/ENSEMBLE, Sarah Villacarillo as MARY LOU/ENSEMBLE, ENSEMBLE: Holly Griffin, Rylie Herbel, Luis Negron, Ashley Stewart and Taylor Windle.


Isolating stand-out performances would be exasperating here, due to the extraordinarily great performances in each role. Mr. Johns and Mr. Fletcher were exemplary, but I will mention a couple others that come to mind: Mary Murphy-Nelson’s provocative and wildly humorous number with “Mother of a Stripper;” Trevin Stephenson’s (“Prairie Men”) over-the-top gay consummation of Peter’s character, who is attracted to Tony (Yay for Peter); orthopedically challenged Kristen Daniels (“The Dinghy Song”) in her brilliantly waggish role as Gina, the anti-heroine, reduced to hobbling on stage frantically to keep up with her other cast members.


There's also Daisy Tye’s (“Secretary’s Lament”) always electrifying acting finesse in practically any show she’s in; Boxcar Theatricals Artistic Director Tyler Stouffer (“Our National Pastime”), who astounded us all with Kelsey, drag queen, manager and emcee of Anthony’s strip show act; Garrett Brown (“Spamalot”) as Anthony’s increasingly concerned better half Trevor (Anthony: “Don’t worry about me, I’ve been in a gang before.”

Trevor: “This is NOT West Side Story, Anthony!”); Ray Tezanos (“Dancing With my Voice”) as stripper-turned-love-interest Lee; and Chris Caputo’s (“In the Right Place at the Right Time”) cold, calculating casting agent Bob.


And it’s hard not to grin from ear to ear when perpetually smiling Anthony breaks out in the company bombshell epiphany about the composition of theater audiences, called “Gays, Jews, and Girls Who Need Love,” which to me evoked a similar sentiment as Eric Idle’s, “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway (If You Don’t Have Any Jews”) from “Spamalot.” I’m just sayin’.


Several guest artists will also surprise the audiences as they take over roles in each of the scheduled performances. On opening night, it was stand-up comedian Rebekah Kochan (Writer: “Joan Rivers Fashion Police,” Films: all five “Eating Out”), original Gina in the film, who played the role of Sperm Bank Receptionist in an uproariously funny, sexually charged exchange with Anthony. Check with Rose Center Theater for updates on other celebrity guests on the way.


The energy of the show is contagious and great fun but I do not recommend singing “I’d Never Ask for More” on the bus on your way home from work. Could get a little testy with Disney freaks. But the lyrics are sharp-witted and literally genius! “Wanna let it go with Elsa, go to space with Wall E, hope Miss Mary pops on by…” Then there are priceless new original numbers like “Romance Begins with a Song” (Rita and Tony), and the rough-riding “Ragtime Cowboy Joe” (Anthony). Need I say more?


This stage adaptation is Directed and Musically Directed by Tim Nelson, with Book by Jeffrey A. Johns and Arie Gonzalez. Other songwriters on the production include Danny Abosch, Anthony Asaro, Ken Clifton, Bobby Cronin, Jay Falzone, Arie Gonzalez, Rob Hartmann, Caleb Hoyer, Paul Louis, Anne Markt, Rick McKee, David Pevsner, Jeff Rizzo, Robert Shapiro, and Ruth Wallis. Orchestrations and additional arrangements by Jeff Batdorf.


Choreographed by Arianna Hyatt, Jennifer Kornswiet, Jennifer Matthers and Trevin Stephenson. Scenic Designer/Lighting & Projection/Technical Direction by Chris Caputo; Wigs by Cliff Senior; MakeUp by Briana Bonilla.


JJ Spotlight Productions and Rose Center Theater proudly presents "Waiting in the Wings: The Musical," a world premiere stage adaptation based on the 2014 hit musical film by the same name. Waiting in The Wings: The Musical is set to play at Orange County's Premier Civic Performing Arts Center, the Rose Center Theater, November 5-14, 2021. Performances: Nov 5, 6 at 7:30 PM; Nov 7 at 2PM; Nov 12, 13 at 7:30PM; Nov 14 at 2PM. Friday and Saturday night performances contain brief rear nudity. Sunday performances do not contain any nudity. This event will be limited in attendance due to social distancing guidelines, and advance ticket purchase is required. For ticket information, please visit: https://www.rosecentertheater.com/


Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


Photo Credits: Ryan Salazar