Midnight Street, the new musical written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen, has two things going for it. The first is a title that promises noirish scenes of dark, urban alleyways where city lamps reflect in after-rain puddles. The second is a running time of 70 minutes. It never fulfills that promise of melodramatic delights, but it is, thankfully, just one hour and ten minutes long.
There is a third element which is probably the sole reason to see Midnight Street: Lenny Wolpe in the role of a Jewish pimp called King Saul, a self-proclaimed rabbi, “ordained at San Quentin.” He takes his clichéd role and gives it depth, particularly in a long speech in response to an outburst of anti-Semitism aimed at him by his pimp partner, Antipas, played and sung shakily by Rafael Jordan.
Danielle, a smart, literate prostitute (Emily Afton) wanders Craig Napoliello’s imaginative, but wrong-headed, set pondering her fate, singing one introspective song after another. The songs vary in style from Rodgers and Hart to Kurt Weill to Franz Schubert and Edith Piaf, all carefully crafted but derivative or diffuse.
She begins with a “Big Spender” type spiel, inviting prospective clients to “get a little glamour, a little decadence” and walks the audience down her checkered history of using her body to please both men and women winding up on the streets of New York. Her preference seems to lay with women, one woman in particular whose memory Danielle brings to life with great passion.
What impresses about Danielle (valiantly portrayed and sung by Ms. Afton) is her literacy and talent with language: “Men forage for leftover dreams burnt out when they sold out! And, women? Christ begging for hand-outs of love.”
She is accosted by the in tandem pimps who sardonically suggest she join them for her own good. Although they begin as a high-minded, if menacing, comedy duo, they soon fall into an intramural battle that turns into the aforementioned anti-Semitic rant to which Lenny Wolpe responds with probably the best-written patch of dialogue in this erratic and over-written play.
An example of Danielle’s brainpower can be inferred from part of one of her soliloquies: “In shadow land I am queen. Let the men bring me plunder… treasure from their conquests! I will laugh all the way to heaven, and watch them fall, like the memory of a star forever! Journeys end and roads deny they ever were. Street sounds. Street music! And the men who were hunters, are victims! I exist in a frigid climate with a false star and artificial moon and sun and exult in the treachery of a woman who slays a man so accommodating in his appeal for love! Come on, mister! You know I’m sincere.” Was there ever so wise a whore?
Cohen is clearly an intelligent, well-read man, familiar with the twists and turns of different periods and styles. Midnight Street is chock full of ideas, poetic meanderings and some worthwhile melodies but just doesn’t add up. His direction can’t overcome the pretentious language and heavy-handed symbolism. Only a Lotte Lenya or, perhaps, a Patti LuPone might have given Mr. Cohen’s songs the right gravity, not to mention finding sense where none exists.
The sound design by Five OHM Productions and the lighting by Ross Graham added much-need ambiance to the show while Mr. Napoliello’s set, an off-kilter wall with a slit revealing a silhouette of a New York City skyline is so out of proportion as to make the actors appear like giants wondering an urban never-never-land. His costumes were also oddly overdone, too.
Midnight Street (through June 22, 2019)
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200/800-447-7400 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: 70 minutes without an intermission