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WHEN MUSIC POPS, WE TURN IT UP

A POPBYTES EXCLUSIVE

TALKING
'STILL WAITING IN THE WINGS'
WITH STAR AND CO-WRITER
JEFFREY A. JOHNS

EXCLUSIVE: TALKING ‘STILL WAITING IN THE WINGS’ WITH STAR AND CO-WRITER JEFFREY A. JOHNS
May 26, 2020 ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI

Just because you can’t currently go to the theater doesn’t mean that you can’t still experience the magic of musicals.

Still Waiting In The WingsNow available worldwide on DVD and all digital platforms—including Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play—Still Waiting in the Wings is the new movie musical that acts as a heartwarming homage to Broadway. Directed by Q. Allan Brocka (creator of Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World) the film is a light-hearted tale that follows the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of actors who dream of making it to the Great White Way.

To celebrate the film’s release, I spoke with star and co-writer Jeffrey A. Johns about releasing the film at a time when theaters are on lockdown, rounding up all-star guest appearances from the likes of Chita Rivera and Seth Rudetsky, his own favorite and most inspirational movie musicals, and more!


ALEX KELLEHER-NAGORSKI: How have you been holding up at home? What have you been doing to pass the time?

JEFFREY A. JOHNS: I am on lockdown, but my experience is anything but boring. I live with my brother and sister-in-law and their two kids. They both have to work and the kids daycare was closed, so I have become a regular Jeffrey Poppins Monday through Friday!   We are working on learning the alphabet, colors, and potty training with the two year old. Don’t mess with me at Candyland at this point! I just try to keep the 10-month-old amused when possible….but found Cheerios are a great way of making her happy and dancing around the living room blasting the hits of Frozen 2.

How would you describe Still Waiting in the Wings to someone looking to rent a movie for the evening? And what is the primary takeaway that you hope viewers have?

This film is not going to change the world, but hopefully gets people laughing, smiling, and maybe singing a showtune or two when the movie ends. I think a big message is not to put an expiration date on a dream. Everyone’s path to success is different and your dream isn’t over until you stop trying to achieve it. In Still Waiting in the Wings, we see exactly how far actors will go to achieve that dream.

The film is a heartwarming musical homage to Broadway. Why did you decide to write this as a film versus a stage production and how do you think this format enhances both the story and tribute?

I always thought about writing a stage show since I was a kid since I’m obsessed with theater. However, after moving to the Los Angeles area and doing shows like America’s Got Talent, I knew I wanted to combine my new found excitement for film and television with my greatest passion which is theater. I also love the idea of making a musical that can be enjoyed in the comfort of your living room. I mean, before I saw my first stage production, I had enjoyed watching movie musicals as a kid with my family. I also think a movie musical is more accessible for people who might not have the opportunity to see live theater shows. The film format enhances the story because we were able to add great guest appearances, do fun camera angles, and even special effects like in the Broadway nightmare section of the film.

Still Waiting In The Wings

There are lots of guest appearances in the film, including Chita Rivera, Nick Adams, Seth Rudetsky, Carole Cook, Sally Struthers, and many more.  How did they all get involved with the project and which of these appearances was the most fun to film?

I did a lot of begging and pleading to get some of these amazing guest appearances in the film. I try to accommodate them in any way I can from switching film dates to changing filming locations. In fact, I had to travel across the country and get an entirely new film crew to film the Chita Rivera scene!

I don’t think I can pick a favorite guest appearance. I had a blast when we were filming all of them. The minute the guest performer walks through the door, my heart races with excitement, since I know it’s going to be a special day on set for everyone. It’s also really rewarding knowing all the hard work of getting that performer to walk through the door paid off.

At a time when nobody can attend live theater, how do you hope that Still Waiting in the Wings satisfies that theater-fix that so many of us are craving?

My goal when creating Still Waiting in the Wings was to give the audience that theatrical experience that would make you feel like you are going to a theater even if you are really just watching a movie. The fact that this story is based on musical theater performers and their antics really helps make that message even stronger.

The film contains original songs by an assortment of rising composers and lyricists. How did you select all of these contributors and what was the creative process like of working with so many people to tell one, cohesive story?

Still Waiting in the Wings is my second musical, which follows the same characters as my original film, Waiting in the Wings: The Musical.  I knew I would never find a great songwriter that would write an entire score for us when I was creating my first film, so I decided to ask several incredible songwriters to write just one or two songs for us. Then I had a composer (Arie Gonzalez) create the orchestrations for all the songs to give it a uniformed sound. I loved the songwriting team so much that when we decided to create Still Waiting in the Wings, I invited them all back. It’s important to note that Still Waiting in the Wings may follow the same characters as the original film, but you don’t need to see one movie to see the other.

What is your favorite musical number in the film and why?

I really enjoy all the music in the film. If I didn’t like a song or it didn’t fit the feel or tone of the rest of the show, it didn’t make it into the final film. My favorite one to perform has to be “Prairie Men” by Nick Santa Maria and Paul Louis. I have never had more fun performing a duet in my life. I got to sing this hysterically funny song and dance ballet at the same time. It doesn’t get better than that for me!

What are some of your personal favorite movie musicals and which ones were you most inspired by when making Still Waiting in the Wings?

My favorite movie musicals are The Music Man, The Sound of Music, Pete’s Dragon, Mary Poppins, and Annie. I think my biggest obsession was the movie Annie, with Aileen Quinn in the title role. I really want to work with Aileen someday, but don’t know if I will be able to stop myself from begging her to sing “Tomorrow.” As a kid, this movie made me WANT to live in an orphanage! In fact, whenever I have to clean the bathroom, I still listen to “It’s a Hard Knock Life.” I think the optimism of the character Annie resonated with me as a kid and still does to this day. The idea that even in the darkest times, tomorrow is a new day gives me hope for the future. A really important message especially in the world we are in right now. I think I carried that spirit and optimism with me through life and it can be seen in my film as well.

An original movie musical is becoming a rarer and rarer art form. Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking, why do you think so many people are hesitant to make movie musicals that are not based on existing properties and/or songbooks?

I think musicals are a niche market. Even big movie studios would rather make a musical based on a show that already has a build-in fan base to minimize the financial risk.  There are so many great long running Broadway musicals that haven’t been brought to the screen, so I don’t think they want to jump at a risky new musical when some popular stage musicals haven’t had a movie adaptation yet. As an independent film maker, musicals become more expensive because of the dance rehearsals, music rehearsals, recording studios, and a much larger cast than a typical independent film. Despite the risk, I think bringing new ideas and new musicals to the screen is so important and I’m thrilled with the hard work of the cast and crew who brought Still Waiting in the Wings to life.

Still Waiting in the Wings has received multiple awards at film festivals across the country. What has this recognition meant for you and the rest of the cast and crew?

I think people tend to be hesitant on new movie musicals. With that being said, having festivals around the world screen this film and honor us with awards is an incredible feeling. Winning “Best Feature Film” at festivals has blown us away, but the award that I’m most proud of was when we won “Best Ensemble Cast” because this truly is an ensemble piece.

What are some other films/TV shows/books you recommend for folks who have watched Still Waiting in the Wings and are clamoring for more theater-driven content while at home?

Naturally, I would recommend my original film, Waiting in the Wings: The Musical.  I know, shameless plug! Aside from that, I would suggest following Broadway artists on YouTube, watching old Tony Awards, searching for old movie musicals that maybe you haven’t seen, and looking at theater websites as many of them are doing special programing right now. I’ve been doing my homework to keep theater in my life even when I can’t actaully go out to the theater to see musicals.

Thanks so much, Jeffrey! Is there anything else you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss?

Tentatively set for September, we are having the world premiere stage adaptation of my first film, Waiting in the Wings: The Musical in Westminster, California. Following the world premiere, we will start working towards the Off-Broadway run of the show, so my first movie will finally be making it to the stage. You can find out more about upcoming projects, get information on where to purchase/rent the movie, and even learn about the new stage show at our website www.jjspotlightproductions.com.

Still Waiting In The Wings

Alex has been writing for PopBytes since 2011. As the Theater Editor, he primarily focuses on all aspects of Broadway, Off-Broadway, Regional Theater, and beyond. After growing up in Poland, Germany, and Russia, Alex now splits his time between New York City and Berkshire County, MA. To read more from Alex, check out his blog, Headphone Infatuation, and follow him on Twitter @AlexNagorski.