Midnight at the Never Get chronicles a gay romance that goes sour at just about the time that the Mark Sonnenblick musical, co-conceived by Sam Bolen, itself goes sour. Also as this occurs, the tuner—set in a Greenwich Village boîte during the late 1960s—begins chewing at the edges of logic.
Trailing a cabaret award or two after having been presented at Don’t Tell Mama and the New York Musical Festival, Midnight at the Never Get is told by singer Trevor Copeland (Bolen) in something of an elegant limbo (a Christopher Swader-Justin Swader design). New to Manhattan, Trevor patronizes the above-mentioned Never Get site. He pulls up to the piano and compliments The Pianist (Jeremy Cohen), also known as Arthur, about a melody he’s tickling on the ivories.
Arthur says it’s a theme for which he has no lyrics yet, but, coaxed by the flirtatious Trevor, he improvises a few amusing words. A romance starts that becomes an act. Why not? Arthur is a composer-lyricist and Trevor is a singer, and the seemingly enamored Arthur is writing besotted song after song for Trevor.
Quick as you can say “Barbra Streisand at the Bon Soir” the team is a downtown hit calling themselves Midnight. (Apparently midnight is the witching hour at which they perform.) Though they’re strictly an early out-loud-and-proud duo limited to Village renown, staffers at Columbia Records (Streisand’s label) drop by with an eye to signing them.
When the contract is offered, Arthur, the team businessman, refuses to sign it. He tells Trevor that the company wants to change all giveaway gay pronouns for appeal to a wider market, and that defeats their groundbreaking purpose. Nevertheless, there is interest in Arthur’s songwriting skills, and, quick as you can say “Eydie Gormé at the Copacabana,” he’s writing songs for Gormé (another Columbia artist) and others. He’s off on a career that increasingly takes him to the West Coast and away from the left-behind-in-more-ways-than-one Trevor.
It’s about now when Arthur, whose ambition rapidly begins outpacing his undying love for Trevor, behaves in ways that, were they described here, could become spoilers. Perhaps, though, it isn’t too unfair to say Arthur’s actions include not having been entirely open with Trevor about Columbia’s actual reason behind not inking Midnight.
Okay, the hang-up has to do with the quality of Trevor’s singing, which from an audience point of view has been perfectly fine. This may be more than can be said for Arthur’s songwriting—or, more to the point, Sonnenblick’s songwriting.
Sonnenblick’s endeavors are intended to be a gloss on the period’s cabaret material. The ditties that he devises as Arthur’s could be aimed at approximating the typical 1960s ballads and upbeat numbers written then. In which case, are they meant to be satire on items dreamed up that decade? Or does Sonnenblick mean them to ring in today’s ears as first-rate? Of the 13 numbers included it’s hard to tell.
(In the score’s favor, it’s well played by a six-person band—Cohen at the piano, of course—in Adam Podd’s brisk arrangements and orchestrations.)
It must be declared that throughout the proceedings Bolen’s impassioned chirping is highly commendable. (There’s also modest dancing choreographed by Andrew Palermo.) Bolen’s resumé mentions his having been a member of Yale singing groups The Whiffenpoofs and The Spizzwinks. This is no mean achievement. So any denigration of Trevor’s talent along those lines doesn’t make sense.
But hold the iPhone. Bookwriter Sonnenblick has a solution for that. Unfortunately, it comes across as a bit of a dramaturgical cheat, including, as it does, a late-in-the-intermissionless-90-minute-show surprise. That twist won’t be revealed here, due to another potential spoiler threat. Nevertheless, a low bow to performer Jon J. Peterson.
Possibly another unfair comment would be noting that Midnight at the Never Get can be considered an AIDS musical. Since, however, there haven’t been many, maybe the categorization requires pointing out.
Viewed in that light, Sonnenblick may have it in mind to turn out a gay love story reflecting a dark time for homosexuality and the effect it had on love and passion. (In Angels in America Tony Kushner deals with this.) Maybe Sonnenblick means the word “Midnight” for its metaphorical connotations and “Never Get” as an ironic spin on the surge of infectious disease.
Or maybe that’s stretching too far to explain the impetus behind a shadowy work. (Lighting designer Jamie Roderick never lets the stage become too bright.) Maybe Sonnenblick doesn’t see the unappealing aspects of his musical. Perhaps he misses the unmitigating facets to Arthur that can alienate spectators. Needless to say, unsympathetic characters have their dramatic place. So far, however, Sonnenblick hasn’t found the place, and that severely affects his musical.
Midnight at the Never Get opened October 11, 2018, at the York Theatre and runs to November 4. Tickets and information: yorktheatre.org