Midnight at The Never Get

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Midnight at The Never Get 

The York Theater, NYC, October 7, 2018

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa for Cabaret Scenes

Sam Bolen & Jeremy Cohen

The York Theater has long served as an incubator for new musicals. Some work; many more don’t. That’s just the nature of the business.

Midnight at The Never Get is the best new musical I’ve seen at the York in a long time. Somehow, I’d heard no buzz about this show. I often hear something about shows well before they open. In any given show that I go to see in New York, there’s usually someone with whom I’ve worked in past years, or whom I know socially, or who’s worked with friends of mine, who says something. It’s a small community, and word about new shows often travels fast. (The York Theater has helped nurture a show or two of mine, so I have even more reason to follow closely what they’re working on.) But I’ve been in and out of town, and somehow I missed hearing about this show.   

I stepped into the York Theater knowing virtually nothing about Midnight at The Never Get and took my seat with no expectations. What a wonderful surprise! Jim Morgan, who runs the York, has got a winner on his hands.  

Mark Sonnenblick—a young Yale alumnus who wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the book (with Sam Bolen) for Midnight—is certainly an artist-to-watch. The show is well-written, well-cast, well-directed, and handsomely produced. I think it has a bright future. It’s an intimate musical and it’s wholly original—not an adaptation of a film, play, or book. It’s fresh and insightful, and it held my interest from beginning to end. I could not predict how it would end. That alone sets it apart from most of the dreck I see. (I see a lot of shows I wouldn’t waste time even reviewing.)  

This intriguing show also marks the Off-Broadway directing debut of Max Friedman (who’s served as assistant director of the high-spirited Be More Chill, which I loved.). Sam Bolen (who co-conceived the show) stars as a singer, working in small New York clubs in the 1960s, who falls in love with a songwriter/pianist, played by Jeremy Cohen. It’s a love story of sorts, set in New York prior to the arrival of gay liberation. The author explores wisely the ways in which we may recall, interpret, and re-interpret the past.  

Both Bolen and Cohen are playing believable characters—Bolen as the fellow who’s all too eager to please his partner (the type of guy that guys will often tire of because he’s just too devoted). Cohen has that armored effect that certain closeted gay males have, playing the part perfectly—even his body language is just right—he evokes a kind of guy that was once much more common, before gay liberation was fully realized. I felt like I’d met both of these characters, that I’d known them both well in past years. (And that’s a solid compliment to the playwright, director, and actors.) There’s also a terrific five-piece band; kudos to music director/arranger Adam Podd and the musicians.

I don’t think I’d change a thing on that stage. Well, if I wanted to be nit-picky, a passing reference in the show to calling 911 momentarily pulled me out of the show, because no one was calling 911 in the mid-1960s; no one would have understood the term “911.”  (In the 1960s, if you needed the police, you dialed “O” for the operator; “911” came into common use later.) But, aside from that one very minor anachronism, the show evokes the era brilliantly. 

Near the very end of the musical, the one-and-only Jon Peterson—who’s starred in shows in London, New York, and on tour—makes a brief but crucial appearance. It is almost a cameo—just one song. But his inimitable mix of depth, sensitivity, and presence adds considerable luster to the proceedings. They are lucky to have a star of his caliber giving the show an extra wallop at the end. (I’ve worked with Jon. He’s always rewarding, whether in large roles or small.) It’s a very brief turn, but it helps bring the show to an unexpectedly rewarding conclusion. 

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: www.chipdeffaa.com.