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Midnight at the Never Get
"Midnight at the Never Get"
If you want a bit of theatrical heaven, along with a smidgen of hell, a mini primer of late 60s gay history – with the obligatory nod to Stonewall included – and a lot of love, all both literally and figuratively, get thee to "Midnight at the Never Get," the York Theater's latest musical production before it closes on Sunday, November 4th. With a 5-piece backup band, two talented leads, and a roster of original songs, about life and love, both found, lost, and found again, well the 90-minute "Midnight at the Never Get," part theater and all cabaret, is the place to be.
Despite a couple of casually dropped clues, it took me a bit of time, as it did much of the audience, to figure out that the play's two lead characters, though very much alive on stage, are fully dead in the story. In fact, singer Trevor Copeland (Sam Bolen), already in heaven when the play opens, is waiting to be reunited with the love of his life, the recently diseased pianist and song writer, Arthur Brightman. Sitting in for Brightman, is actor Jeremy Cohen, who, as the ever-inventive Copeland informs us is only a glorified memory of Brightman, more fancy than fact.
"Midnight" is essentially a memory play in which Copeland recounts – in some 13 song and dance-wrapped snippets – his life from when he first left a small town in Idaho somewhere in his mid-twenties to come to New York City to pursue a singing career, meets and falls in love with twenty-something-year-old Brightman, creates a popular once a week midnight show at the Never Get club, to his virtual end on earth, as he lay dying, presumably of AIDs.
In between Idaho and Heaven (or is it purgatory?) the majority of the play takes place in the late 60s at the Never Get club, a barely legal New York City Greenwich Village hangout frequented mostly by gays. It is here, on the brothers, Christopher's & Justin Swader's one piano set with the unlit band placed stage back that the lovely tenor-voiced Sam Bolen, as Copeland, is waiting for Brightman to join him in heaven, sings his heart out.
The play commences with a piped in announcement. It is the first inkling, though too soon to decipher, that we might be entering into an otherworldly situation. "Ladies and Gentleman, welcome to Midnight at the Never Get, a performance of rare taste and exquisite arrangement, a story of desperate intention, a song outside of time. It is my great pleasure to introduce to you now the storyteller, the singer, all that if left of Mr. Trevor Copeland." Though Brightman has yet to be mentioned by name, it is here with Bolen singing "The Mercy of Love," one of the productions more sultry ballads that we hear that Copeland is hopelessly in love.
I'M AT THE MERCY OF LOVE.
I USED TO STAY COLD WHEN PASSION TOOK HOLD.
BUT THE HEART WANTS
While many of the songs Copeland sings talk of love, other are quite comedic. Sticking out like a sore thumb is "My Boy in Blue." It is a mock love song to the policemen of the 60s who raid, harass, and arrest patrons found in the then illegal gay bars.
I FEEL A KIND OF JOY
HIS OUTFIT'S FUN
I THINK THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT!
HIS PONTIAC IS GREEN AND BLACK
WELL...I WOULDN'T CALL HIM SWEET
I LOVE HIM, I REALLY DO
Though it is love that mostly fills the air at the beginning of Copeland's and Brightman's relationship, when the song-writer composed countless love songs inspired by his love for Copeland, the road turns quite bumpy when outside forces penetrates their delicately balanced cocoon. First their weekly midnight show gets axed when the owner of the Never Get club unexpectedly dies. Next, a major record company, with no interest at all in Copeland – obviously he is too gay-acting for them – wants to sign singer-songwriter Brightman to a contract. Suddenly, all bets are off, as Brightman set wildly aflame by ambition, and yearning to be a household name, turns Copeland's apple cart upside down.
Though the story, albeit a bit of a mishmash, is a commonplace one, lifting the show skyward is the accomplished piano work of Jeremy Cohen who only sings a few songs, both suavely at that. As far as the play's attention grabber it is the insistent vocal beltings of tuxedo clad Sam Bolen (the play's co-conceiver) which has him delivering many of Mark Sonnenblick's cleverly-worded Great American Songbook sounding songs (think Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin, and even the Britt Noel Coward), in the show-stopping style of the late great Ethel Merman. Sometimes this worked, and sometimes it didn't. However, it never failed to bring a great big smile to my face. Such is the salesmanship of Sam Bolen.
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