While “radical” fairies and cross-dressers were rioting for their lives at Stonewall, a crooner and his composer beau were performing in the style of Cole Porter for a more refined crowd. Their act of civil rebellion? Using pronouns true to their gay romance. There’s no throwing punches in Midnight at the Never Get, a charming if uneventful cabaret-style musical that opened off-Broadway tonight. Though it may have been easier to feel sympathy for these fellas if they had more skin in the game.
The face of this two-man band lacks much conviction to join the fight, smitten as he is with his pianist (Jeremy Cohen). Sam Bolen, who co-conceived the new musical with writer-composer Mark Sonnenblick, narrates the story with remarkable stamina and a honeyed voice. Though for the better part of this 90-minute show, being in love seems to be his character’s only trait — until losing that love takes over.
What little conflict arises in the meantime has to do with his lover’s severe fixation on respectability — setting himself apart from downtown queer riffraff inside his vintage tux. Of course, both characters already enjoy every advantage of being white men with means, a privilege briefly acknowledged but hardly interrogated here. There’s not much sting to the adversity they do face, which only highlights the unseen cruelties that fell upon many others less fortunate. History has tended to focus on the latter for good reason. Heartbreak is a drag, but there are worse things.
The many ways to say ‘I love you’ drive Sonnenblick’s loungey jazz score, inspired by the American Songbook and orchestrated by a top-notch onstage band. One particularly clever number turns the frequent nuisance of police raids into an upbeat ode called “My Boy in Blue,” with wry asides like, “I don’t know I just him so… arresting.” Max Friedman directs the York Theatre Company production tucked into the lower level of Saint Peter’s Church, a setting that ultimately lends the story’s celestial bent an uncanny resonance.
What happens when you realize “your whole life was just a rehearsal for your memory”? At its most profound, Sonnenblick’s musical explores the penumbras suggested by its title, which refers to the time and location of the duo’s act: midnight, the tipping point between one day and the next, and a bar called the Never Get, an allusion to perpetual unfulfillment. Every experience is always in the process of turning the corner into memory. Including, and perhaps most indelibly, the kind of love that makes you sing.
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(photos: carol rosegg)