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BWW Review: MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET at Signature Theatre

Streaming through June 21, 2021

BWW Review: MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET at Signature Theatre
Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen share a moment at the edge of eternity in Signature Theatre's streaming production of Midnight at The Never Get. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

"You get to pick a memory- make a little house out of it."

In Signature Theatre's streaming production of Midnight at The Never Get, we are virtual guests inside a heart-wrenching house of memories decorated with a beautifully nostalgic score.

Midnight at The Never Get begins as a cabaret act that transforms into a love story and concludes as a meditation on the way we grieve our past selves. The entire show takes place in a 1960s nightclub where things are not quite as they seem: the star of the act, singer Trevor Copeland (Sam Bolen, who also co-conceived the show), has died, and he's chosen to spend his afterlife inside a cabaret of songs and stories. We are the audience to Trevor's memories as he takes us on a journey through a chapter of his past in which he performed in a nightclub routine with the love of his life, songwriter Arthur Brightman (Christian Douglas).

This framing makes Midnight at The Never Get a multilayered performance, where Trevor's spoken and sung soliloquies shift between addressing the imaginary audience for his old act and speaking directly to us, the audience to his afterlife memories. The fact that this production was filmed in advance and we get to view it in streaming form adds another elegant dimension to the layers of spectatorship. The shots of the performers alternate between distant and intimate, allowing us to get up close in certain moments, but retaining the sense of being audience members in a theatrical space at other times. The lack of laughter and applause for Trevor's act felt uneasy at first but then became an apt encapsulation of his solitude.

Arthur's music, and correspondingly the music Trevor sings for us, is from a time before the story is set: Arthur writes self-consciously Cole Porter-esque witty love songs that hearken back to the 1930s. The music, lyrics, and script (all by Mark Sonnenblick) are indeed gorgeous and clever, but things are not all "de-lovely" in Trevor's memories. "Midnight at The Never Get" is the name of Arthur and Trevor's act, and the Never Get is the underground gay bar in Greenwich Village where they perform - and it's routinely raided by police. There's tension between Arthur and Trevor on how to confront this hate and bigotry: Trevor is sympathetic to the protesters loudly sounding the cry for justice, whereas Arthur feels that the most pragmatic way forward is to assimilate into heterosexual spaces and norms.

BWW Review: MIDNIGHT AT THE NEVER GET at Signature Theatre
Christian Douglas and Sam Bolen perform in their shared act in Signature Theatre's Midnight at The Never Get. Photo by Christopher Mueller.

Sam Bolen's Trevor carries the show as its charismatic narrator, with impressive vocal chops and exceptional stamina that are always deployed in service of the story rather than distracting from it. Christian Douglas shines as the memory of Arthur, showcasing stellar vocals and charming aloofness that keep Trevor and the audience alike on the edge of our seats. Bobby Smith's performance of the soaring finale ("A Little Less to Lose") was a masterclass in storytelling through song. Other musical highlights included "I Cannot Change the Way I Am" and "I Rely On You," both of which alternate between singing and asides to provide a longing snapshot of Trevor's past.

At one point Arthur says, "A song should be a crystal of emotion." In his cabaret act, Trevor has organized his messy memories into little crystals of songs that distill the flavor of moments that he can't help but revisit. While much of the show's conflict comes from the push and pull of Arthur's disdain for "loud and aggressive" revolutionaries and Trevor's embrace of resistance by performing "for all the people who [don't] exist" at the Never Get, this isn't the whole story. At the heart of the show is the way the tension between Arthur and Trevor is mirrored in how we build our identities in general: there's always a balance needed between the carefully constructed and the spontaneous, the crystallized and the fluid. In the smoky, dramatically lit, glimmering flashes of Trevor's imaginary Never Get, we get to explore what it's like to try to squeeze all the messiness of a life into a single performance. And in a time before Stonewall, Arthur and Trevor must strive to do this authentically without compromising their safety and careers. It's a paradox that would take a literal eternity to contemplate.

Midnight at The Never Get depicts an afterlife that is not a destination but a space for rehearsal. As Trevor waits for Arthur to join him in their shared memories, he practices different iterations of the same moments again and again. In this way, the show is about more than just nostalgia: it explores how we construct different identities through performance, even if the audience is just a vacant room. Yes, even in an empty theatre, even during a pandemic, there's always someone watching. And there are plenty of catchy songs to carry the memories along.

Running time: 90 minutes

Midnight at The Never Get at the Tony-winning Signature Theatre is streaming through June 21, 2021 in HD on Marquee TV at Signature Theatre requests a donation of $35 or higher to view the show.

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