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The Clock Strikes Twelve

August 9, 2017 5:00 am0 commentsViews: 146
Photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography

Photo: Jeremy Daniel Photography

by Steve Desroches

The idea came out of New York. Actor and singer Sam Bolen thought of a story about a romance between two men, one a singer and the other a songwriter. Though they only existed in a fog of imagination, the characters knocked on the edges of his mind begging to be created. And on a day of no initial particular import he shared the concept for a new show with his friend Mark Sonnenblick, a composer and writer. After hearing this amorphous concept Sonnenblick simply said, “Yup. That sounds like something I’d like to do.” That was almost three years ago, and the duo are in a state of giddy disbelief and gratitude as the spark of inspiration has led to full-on realization with their brand new musical Midnight at the Never Get opening here in Provincetown a few weeks ago and continuing its summer-long run through Labor Day weekend, delighting audiences looking for something entirely different in the town’s fabled performance landscape.

As any artist can attest, the trip from thought to creation is a wily one full of challenges, many of which can be internal, never mind the external forces that are largely out of one’s control. And while it’s the intense devotion to a work that they both know has that special spark that brought this production to the stage, it’s Provincetown’s own magic that brought it here specifically. After premieres at Don’t Tell Mama and the New York Musical Festival, Bolen and Sonnenblick were thinking of where to take the production for a longer engagement with the hopes of taking back to New York for an off-Broadway run. One night, over dinner with friends, Sonnenblick listed the locations they were thinking of, when Gavin Creel, Tony Award-winner for his recent role in Hello, Dolly, said, “Provincetown. You need to take it to Provincetown.” Having played the town as part of the Broadway series at the Art House, Creel fell in love with the town’s creative spirit and support for the arts, and he knew the Cape tip was exactly where they needed to be. And he was so right.

Midnight at the Never Get is a same-sex love story set in pre-Stonewall New York in an illegal gay bar – the Never Get – in Greenwich Village. Trevor, played by Bolen, and Arthur, portrayed by Sonnenblick, perform a cabaret show where the songs are explicitly about two men in love, something shocking and revolutionary for the day, even to gay people. But as the times change, their stand as gay men pales in comparison to the activism set loose by the times, as does the changing culture no longer interested in their style of music. The conceit of the story captures the fear and frustration of those gay people who had assembled safe lives, or as safe as possible, who now find themselves thrust back into the shadows by their own choices and a new generation.

“We wanted to put it in a context that felt urgent and now,” says Sonnenblick. “Setting it in the Sixties, which of course was a time of major change for gay rights, and music was changing, too, helped. These two guys could ‘pass’ at the time. Instead of putting them in the forefront of things, what if we had them where they were more back alley?”

With the music, lyrics, and book written by Sonnenblick, there is crispness to the narrative that elicits an instant empathy for the situation these two men find themselves in. It captures perfectly the essence of the “Judy Garland era” gays, which had undeniable tragedy. But what is refreshing about Midnight at the Never Get is that the gay characters are not helpless, even though they might not see the power they have as those at Stonewall did. While we may be living in a time of backlash for the LGBTQ community, marriage equality and a White House illuminated in the pride colors is also part of American history. And Midnight at the Never Get straddles modern-day perspectives with historical accuracy marvelously, without falling into anachronisms or overwrought sentimentality.

With 11 original songs, sung beautifully by Bolen and backed by Sonnenblick on piano and a full cabaret band, Midnight at the Never Get is also an exploration of that sharp cultural turn America took in the late 1960s, where Garlandesque style music was shoved aside by the like of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Achieving success in their chosen genre is difficult enough, but as a gay couple, it is nearly impossible. And we see the effect that the pressure of those times had on gay people, in this story’s case, both personally and professionally. While Arthur is more stuffy and pragmatic, Trevor is the hopeless romantic.

“You’re always told to do what you’re passionate about and success will follow,” says Bolen. “The reality is, of course, that’s not always true. There’s triumph in Trevor’s persistent optimism, but tragedy as that optimism gets in the way.”

Midnight at the Never Get is a surprise in many ways, the first being the complete immersion audiences feel as the Mayflower Room at the Provincetown Inn is transformed from door to stage into a 1960s cabaret. The set design by Christopher and Justin Swader immediately excites. But it also provides a theatrical experience that features a daring and a risk that pays off by steering clear of schmaltz or creating mythological heroes. Rather, it delivers heartbreak and realism through the smoky haze of the battle between nostalgia and reality as the storyline goes in unexpected directions that electrify.  Provincetown is fortunate to still attract such compelling works of original theater such as Midnight at the Never Get as this production dives head first into the core aspects of the human condition.

“The big thing is what do you do when you love something and it doesn’t love you back,” says Sonnenblick. “That’s true with people as much as it’s true with art. Like Trevor says in the show, ‘The heart wants what the heart wants.’”

Midnight at the Never Get plays at the Provincetown Inn, 1 Commercial St., Monday through Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday at 6 and 9:30 p.m. through September 2 (no performance on Wednesday, August 30) with special closing night performances on Sunday, September 3 at 6 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets ($25 – $65) are available online at nevergetmusical.com and at the door.