Metro Weekly

Theater Review: “Midnight at the Never Get” at Signature Theatre

Sam Bolen and Christian Douglas make beautiful music together in a bittersweet, pre-Stonewall romance.

Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen in Midnight at The Never Get — Photo: Christopher Mueller

The songs speak volumes in Midnight at the Never Get (★★★★☆), expressing feelings that crooner Trevor Copeland (Sam Bolen) and pianist Arthur Brightman (Christian Douglas) might otherwise never admit to themselves, each other, or the world. Arthur writes the songs and Trevor sings them, but both of their stories, and an era of LGBTQ history, flow through their fateful collaboration.

The musical — conceived by Bolen, writer/composer/lyricist Mark Sonnenblick, and Max Friedman, who directed the original Off-Broadway production — depicts a version of Trevor and Arthur’s partnership as Trevor remembers it. His memory often fails him, as he regales his audience at the Never Get, a backroom boîte in Greenwich Village, with a tale of love, loss, and, he hopes, reunion.

Part solo reminiscence, part loving double act, the show offers a handful of wrenching plot twists that deepen Trevor’s stroll down selective memory lane. Director Matthew Gardiner stages the flashes back and sideways smoothly, with his handsome leads in tuxes always commanding the Never Get’s cabaret stage.

Ryan Hickey’s sound design doesn’t always serve the digital streaming presentation well — viewers might want to keep the volume control handy — but on the visual side, Adam Honoré’s lighting is gorgeous and full of character, while the film crew of Chiet Productions have done a wonderful job capturing the atmosphere and pacing of live performance.

Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen in Midnight at The Never Get -- Photo: Christopher Mueller
Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen in Midnight at The Never Get — Photo: Christopher Mueller

Finessing every turn, Bolen takes his Trevor from joy to heartbreak and back again, usually in a single song, and certainly over the 95 minutes or so the singer spends baring his soul. Lending his songman the style of both chipper entertainer and fey, torchy crooner, Bolen creates a bright, distinctive musical persona in Trevor Copeland.

Well attuned to Sonnenblick’s jazzy score, he sounds big and confident backed by the full six-piece band, including Douglas, terrific on the piano, if a bit less so on the numbers where only the keys accompany him.

Sometimes, though, that quiver in Trevor’s voice merely tells more of the story of his and Arthur’s pained romance. What we see before us is “all that is left of Mr. Trevor Copeland,” according to an off-stage emcee, voiced by Bobby Smith, who also makes a powerful onstage appearance late in the show, in a character turn that adds even further dimension to this tale of “love irrational or unrequited.”

Taking off from the night in 1963 when the pair meet at a Greenwich Village bar, the script poignantly weaves ’60s gay and pop culture through their romance as both vivid background and motivation for character. Arthur and Trevor, headlining at a gay bar in an era when gay bars were illegal, disagree on how to be out and active in the gay rights movement. Arthur, convincingly played by Douglas as a gay man intent on upholding an image of manliness, nevertheless espouses some radical views.

While he preaches respectability politics to the rowdy hippies who crash their shows, he remains boldly queer, insisting that he and Trevor shouldn’t alter the pronouns or the meaning in their songs. They’re gay love songs, and should be sung that way.

“Don’t let the world shape our love, let our love shape the world,” he tells Trevor. Still, he might not have the strength and will to live up to his own words — and given Trevor’s hazy memory, he might not ever have said them.

Midnight at the Never Get is available on Marquee TV for streaming on-demand through June 21. Tickets for a 72-hour viewing window are $35. Visit www.sigtheatre.org.

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