Mark Sonnenblick’s exceptional book is an accomplished mixture of prodigious research, well-drawn characters and adept if misguided construction. It skillfully dramatizes the gay experience of living in New York City in the 1960’s with all its glory and despair. The Checkerboard, Julius, The Village Vanguard, The Blue Angel, The Bon Soir and Cafe Wha? are among the legendary venues mentioned. The Stonewall Riots, organized crime’s control of gay bars and routine arrests of gay men are cited.
After a meet-cute between the Idaho-born Trevor and the urban Arthur who are both in their early 20’s, we track them amidst the cultural scene of the era. A key theme is the unacceptance of being gay by the mainstream as Arthur is faced with rewriting his songs to excise gay significance. Their idyllic relationship becomes frayed as Arthur’s career ascends while Trevor’s stalls.
Eventually the narrative conceit is imparted, that Trevor is dead and is in a netherworld looking back at his life. This glumly employed device gets glummer. Mr. Sonnenblick’s appealing upbeat tone and affectionate nostalgia are diminished by the downer of an ending when we learn the fates of the characters we’ve been joyfully following. Trevor is revealed to be an unreliable narrator and there’s a complicated Eugene O’Neill-style grim abandoning one’s pipe dreams coda rather than simple The Way We Were wistfulness. Still, there is much to enjoy that comes before.
Sonnenblick’s music and lyrics for his score are a buoyant assortment of songs that perfectly recall vintage show business style with tones of Jule Styne, Jerry Herman and Burt Bacharach. Hearing these compositions, it’s totally plausible when we’re told that Arthur would go on to win two Oscars and that Connie Francis, Peggy Lee and Eydie Gormé would have chart successes with them.
As Trevor, Sam Bolen is a whirlwind of energy as he sings, dances and acts his heart out. Mr. Bolen expertly surmounts the obstacle of exhibiting talent yet being convincing as a character “who is just not good enough” for a major career. Playing Freddy Eynsford-Hill in a Berkshires production of My Fair Lady was his plateau. Bolen also co-conceived the show with Sonnenblick.
Jeremy Cohen’s zesty portrayal of the semi-closeted ruthless Arthur is marked by romantic tenderness that veers to chilling frostiness as he detaches himself from Trevor. Mr. Cohen’s piano playing and vocals are as superior as his acting as he effortlessly goes from one song to the next while remaining in character.
In arguably an extraneous and somewhat confusing subsidiary role, the superb British-born and ubiquitous performer Jon J. Peterson appears with his customary razzle dazzle.
Director Max Friedman artful staging makes creative use of the spare nightclub setting that consists of the piano, stools and plants off to the side. Andrew Palermo’s pert choreography evokes the dances of the 1960’s with verve.
Besides the basic nightclub elements, Christopher Swader and Justin Swader’s scenic design consists of the terrific Follies-like lit up The Never Get sign comprised of small bulbs that frames and dominates the stage.
Lighting designer Jamie Roderick wondrously achieves the desired temporal and spiritual dimensions with textured hues, strobes and smoke effects. Kevin Heard’s sound design brightly realizes the music and vocals. Trevor and Arthur’s tweaked snappy formalwear is the fine efforts of costumer designer Vanessa Leuck.
Before it’s unsatisfying jaggedly dour finale, Midnight at The Never Get is a blazing, novel and affirmative experience.
Midnight at The Never Get (through November 4, 2018)
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-935-5820 or visit http://www.yorktheatre.org
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission