MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET celebrates cabaret to tell a gay love story, and sweetly and unexpectedly transcends its limitations with poignant observations about gay culture. It’s the mid-1960s and lounge singer Trevor Copeland falls in love with his closeted pianist and composer. They find safe haven for performances of their uncompromising lyrics for he-and-he love songs at a West Village cellar dive, The Never Get, on weekend midnights. As in many backstage melodramas, the relationship suffers when success creeps in.
Sounds like pretty standard stuff, but Mark Sonnenblick, who wrote the book plus MIDNIGHT’s thirteen original songs, personalizes Trevor’s story to dramatize how Stonewall and the movement changed gay lives. (MIDNIGHT acknowledges, too, the plague that followed the giddy, post-Stonewall 1970s.) Sonnenblick’s songs are homage to the great American songbook, recalling themes, lyrics and melodies of the greats, like Porter, Gershwin and Arlen. Some tunes are jazzy, some bluesy but torch song rules, particularly in the opening, mood-setting “The Mercy of Love” and “I Cannot Change the Way I Am”.
Director Max Friedman and choreographer Andrew Palermo manage stage movement of the two characters on the tidy York Theatre stage so that the 90-minute show neither stalls nor speeds ahead. The onstage, five-piece club band is excellent as is the piano playing - and acting - of Trevor’s lover portrayed by Jeremy Cohen. Sam Bolen (who co-conceived the show with Sonnenblick) as Trevor turns piano-bar singing into tour de force: Minnelli sang way better than Sally Bowles was ever supposed to, too, but so what? What’s more, Bolen’s Trevor, always sensitive, never gets maudlin. In a moving, surprise ending with the haunting ballad “A Little Less to Lose” sentiment speaks all for itself.
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