Review: A Stripper and a Wannabe Thespian Mistakenly Swap Places in Waiting in the Wings

Jeffrey A. Johns brings an overstuffed version of his 2014 movie musical to the Theatre at St. Clement’s.

Matthew Kleckner, Jeffrey A. Johns, and Dante Giannetta in <i>Waiting in the Wings</i>, directed by Jay Falzone at the Theatre at St. Clement’s.
(photo courtesy of the production)


Anyone who has ever seen professional strippers perform a well-choreographed routine knows there’s more to it than just taking your clothes off. There’s music, there’s dance, there’s wardrobe, there’s acting. This may explain why Anthony, the hero of Jeffrey A. Johns’s Waiting in the Wings, doesn’t ask too many questions when his headshot for an off-Broadway show is mistakenly swapped with a male stripper’s and he winds up wearing a cowboy hat and G-string. Still, Oklahoma! never looked quite like this.

It’s far-fetched, but Waiting in the Wings is a musical comedy, a genre that embraces kooky, improbable plots. It worked fine when Johns made it into a movie that was successful enough to spawn a sequel. The first film stood out for a couple reasons, including cameos by the likes of Sally Struthers, Lee Meriwether, and Shirley Jones, plus a modest roster of fun, catchy numbers. It also came in at a reasonable hour and 45 minutes.

For its off-Broadway incarnation, however, Johns, co-writer Arie Gonzalez, and director Jay Falzone made the mistake of going bigger — adding more music so that characters major and minor have a song to let them shine — and in the process they blew the show up to a whopping two hours and 35 minutes. Johns once again takes on the role of Anthony, a slight-figured, theater-loving gay guy from Montana who enters a contest — run by a money-grabbing pair (Adriana Nocco and Patrick C. Ball) — for the chance to be in an off-Broadway show. Meanwhile, self-absorbed muscly straight guy Tony (Matthew Kleckner) enters a stripper contest run by same two con artists. Anthony’s and Tony’s applications get mixed up and each ends up in the other’s shoes. It’s Freaky Friday meets Magic Mike.

Well, sort of. Romantic subplots filled with egregiously pun-soaked dialogue and DOA one-liners fill in the gaps between the musical numbers that are sprinkled willy-nilly throughout. Some of the best tunes are those that have been brought over from the film, such as “The World Needs Music” — a Broadway-themed ensemble number that includes fun tap choreography by Jennifer Kornswiet — and a homage to the people who have kept the theater going since time immemorial, “Gays, Jews, and Girls Who Need Love.”

The cast comprises performers of varying vocal and dancing abilities. Zoe Schneider-Smith plays Tony’s love interest Rita with showgirl panache, while Nathan Hoty, as the stripper who develops a crush on Anthony, has some trouble staying on key. Ryan Borgo hams it up as Peter, who wants to give Tony more than a dance tutorial. Juliet Fischer sings hilariously about the trials of being the “Mother of a Stripper,” while Devin Lee Pfeiffer turns in a serviceable performance as Anthony’s boring boyfriend, Trevor (to be fair, Pfeiffer isn’t given much to work with). Alessandra Antonelli, Gabbe Meloccaro, and Patrick MacLennan round out the ensemble and give appropriately campy performances.

At least Maya Faye Gordon has given them colorful costumes that sparkle in front of Cliff Price’s makeshift though versatile set. Casey Duke gives hot spotlighting to the hunky dancers who bare their bods (Dante Giannetta, Cooper Fitch, and adult film star Max Konnor making a fine off-Broadway debut). Jonathan Chisolm deserves special mention for their performance as drag queen Kelsey, who dispenses motherly advice to Anthony and belts impressively in the hilarious “Bases Loaded” (if sexual baseball puns are your thing, this is the song for you). Too bad that the vocals throughout are often smothered by the piped-in music, making the actors sound like they’re singing from the confines of a parked car on a hot summer day.

If Johns can bring himself to kill some of his darlings and hack off some superfluous subplots, Waiting in the Wings could be the kind of show that attracts gaggles of gays during Pride month, with enough lively songs and vibrant tap-routines to delight the two-martini crowd. But in a musical about stripping, less is definitely more.

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