A sweet musical fairytale that turns sour, Midnight at the Never Get offers a poignant chapter of pre-Stonewall gay life in the 1960s, garnished with Great American Songbook-style numbers. Its story tunes up a nice guy’s romantic recollection of his affair with the man that got away.
Opening on Thursday in a smart production by The York Theatre Company at the Theater at Saint Peter’s, Midnight at the Never Get arrives with accolades from previous iterations. The two-character tuner was a reported sell-out during the 2016 New York Musical Festival and nabbed a 2017 Bistro Award. It enjoyed a six-week summer run at a club in Provincetown, Massachusetts, in 2017.
An intimate night club is the room where it happens; a little Greenwich Village joint conjured up within the rapt romantic reveries of Trevor, who is discovered while perched atop a baby grand piano in a burgundy dinner jacket. Trevor croons a moody torch song. “I’m at the mercy of love,” he sings, ruefully. “Wandering blind with love. Caught in its power, each passing hour tears me apart …”
As the slightly boozy Trevor confidentially chats to the audience over his next several numbers, it becomes obvious that he is dead. In fact, Trevor has been dead for decades. This cabaret where he warbles, The Never Get, is neither heaven nor hell, but rather glimmers as a little rainbow bubble of wishful memory where Trevor awaits to be reunited for eternity with Arthur, the long-lost love of his life.
Long before this revelation dawns, Arthur has materialized where he remains through most of the show—seated at the keyboard of the piano as he writes and plays the songs that Trevor sings. The story regards the affair between this songwriter and entertainer during the middle 1960s, when they were forced to live clandestinely as lovers while the pronouns of the music they made together had to be whitewashed into heterosexual terms.
Kowtowing to such social norms of the era troubles Arthur just as much as the encroaching popularity of rock music drowns out the Berlin-Porter-Kern sort of old-school songs that he writes. Still, Trevor and Arthur achieve some Bon Soir-ish success with the hip, late night crowd.
Then love suddenly dies, or perhaps was never really there to begin with, as Arthur decides. To reveal more about the unexpectedly bleak conclusion would be a spoiler, although the latter revelations of the 85-minute musical curdle beyond bittersweet. Watching the show is akin to sipping a Shirley Temple cocktail only to discover a worm lurking at the bottom of the glass.
If his plot trajectory abruptly hits the rocks, Mark Sonnenblick, who crafted the book, lyrics, and music, undoubtedly displays promise. They may be salutes to yesteryear modes, but among Sonnenblick’s dozen or so attractive songs, “The Bells Keep Ringing,” a jazzy celebration of love, “My Boy in Blue,” a cute I-love-a-cop number, and “I Prefer Sunshine,” a perky affirmation of optimism, are ditties worthy of the sing-a-long crowd at Marie’s Crisis. The songs are enhanced by mellow orchestrations from Adam Podd that are effectively rendered by five ace musicians who lurk in the violet background of lighting designer Jamie Roderick’s moody atmospherics.
Bolstering this bijou musical is the sincerity of its performances under Max Friedman’s well-tuned direction. Blithe-spirited Trevor is effervescently portrayed by Sam Bolen (credited as the show’s co-conceiver), who applies pleasant tenor vocals to the songs, until his character’s bubble gets burst. Jeremy Cohen is a relatively low-keyed and agreeable presence as Arthur.
An intimate musical affair, Midnight at the Never Get does not nearly reach the emotional depths it tries to explore, but still manages to deliver plenty of appealing moments.