Theater queens starved for a fresh banquet of stardust and showtunes might choke on the processed cheese of Still Waiting in the Wings (★☆☆☆☆). The followup to 2014 film fest fave Waiting in the Wings: The Musical continues the onscreen adventures of struggling New York City actors, now roommates, Anthony (Jeffrey A. Johns) and Tony (Adam Huss). The script, by Johns and Arie Gonzalez, intends that straight meathead Tony is the cute, dumb one, and gay Broadway hopeful Anthony is the bright-eyed optimist, but both of these guys are dense. Sincerity, not smarts or talent, guides them along their chase for that one big break, as Tony lands a role on a soap opera, and Anthony faces off against conniving rival actor/waiter Bradley (Joe Abraham).
More the film’s focus, Anthony pursues his performing passion with all the stubborn, high-energy glee of a gayer Pee-Wee Herman — but with none of Pee-Wee’s edge, or style, or cheeky sex appeal. Yes, Pee-Wee Herman is some kind of matinee idol compared to Anthony, whose belting-it-to-the-back personality can only do so much to prop up his shaky singing. Nevertheless, Anthony did emerge from the first film with an adoring stripper boyfriend, Lee (Blake Peyrot), a good excuse for adding a few oiled-up, jock-wearing supporting characters to this film’s swirl of shirtless chorus boys and, in one scene, a roomful of actors auditioning for a role in a porno.
Director Q. Allan Brocka (Eating Out) dispenses the eye candy more assuredly than the jokes. Between editing that fumbles the punchlines, and camerawork that struggles at times to keep actors in frame, neither the comedy nor the musical numbers really find their timing. And even legends suffer. The bloopers that run alongside the closing credits include a take of theater diva Chita Rivera, who briefly appears as herself, apologizing for inadvertently moving out of frame in one shot. But it’s the camera crew that does Rivera and the film a disservice with clunky composition throughout, whether performers are walking, dancing, or standing still.
The two-time Tony-winner sparkles among the array of Broadway and TV stars — from Lee Meriwether and Ed Asner, to Sally Struthers and Bruce Vilanch — who add dashes of grace and wit to this modest production. Meriwether, reprising her role as Anthony’s hometown Montana mentor, Ethel, lends sweet support, and gamely goes full-out for a gag in drag.
Broadway hunk Nick Adams, in a fleeting musical cameo, shows Anthony how a song is really sung, while Seth Rudetsky earns the film’s truest laughs as a voice teacher who tells Anthony exactly what the audience might also be thinking. The scene reveals a level of self-awareness that peeks too rarely from behind the film’s curtain of toothy theatricality.
Clearly, the filmmakers understand a thing or two about the ego-churning mix of camaraderie and competition between struggling actor friends and frenemies. The plot is predictable but emotions ring true, even as the passel of indistinct original tunes by several different writers leave musical finesse waiting in the wings.
Still Waiting in the Wings is available May 15 on DVD, and all digital platforms, including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. Visit www.JJSpotlightProductions.com.
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