Written and Directed by Arnold L. Cohen
Produced by MC Theatrical Productions
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 6.22.19
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
by Ken Kaissar on 6.4.19
Emily Afton, Rafael Jordan, and Lenny Wolpe in Midnight Street. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
BOTTOM LINE: A three-person musical about the dangers and thrills of being a prostitute.
Musicals usually require large casts making them prohibitively expensive to produce, so I was intrigued to see this new musical with a cast of just three. A show that keeps us humming along and tapping our toes with only three actors could be a potential goldmine. I was anxious to see if writer/director Arnold L. Cohen struck gold.
Midnight Street is about a New York City prostitute (Emily Afton) who seems to take great pride in her ability to ensnare her customers and show them a good time. The first quarter of the show is essentially a solo piece as she addresses the audience and sings about the thrills of seducing men. Several songs go by in this vein before Cohen offers up the next plot point. To be sure, Afton has a beautiful voice and her performance is charming and delightful, but after the third or fourth number we start to wonder how long Cohen intends to have her sing to us.
Eventually two pimps accost our heroine and demand that she work for them, at peril of her life. One is a rabbi known as Big Saul (Lenny Wolpe) and the other, Antipas (Rafael Jordan), identifies as Catholic, presumably only to create tension with his Jewish counterpart. The prostitute tolerates and placates the two bullies, but clearly has no intention of complying. Will she be able to stand her ground and keep the scoundrels at bay?
All three actors in Midnight Street offer very capable performances, but unfortunately, the script is too thin and underdeveloped to allow them to shine. None of the characters have any depth or dimension. We don’t know how or why our central character became a prostitute, and while I’m intrigued by a former rabbi turned pimp, Cohen doesn’t even attempt to explain what would transform a man of god into a merchant of fornication.
In the oddest moment of the piece, the two pimps forget about their "merchandise" and engage in a theological brawl where Big Saul unleashes a litany of historical moments in which Jews have been victimized by Christians. It was here that I scratched my head and wondered “what is happening right now?” Did Cohen pen a musical about pimps and prostitutes to engage the audience in a comment on anti-Semitism? I was truly baffled—was I the only one in the audience who felt as though we had all just entered The Twilight Zone?
The set design by Craig Napoliello is lovely, and offers a promising experience before the show begins: a proscenium within a proscenium frames the distant skyline of New York in the background. The set is highly theatrical and romantic, suggesting an air of fantasy like that through which the central character views her life. Midnight Street is hardly a musical version of HBO's The Deuce. It isn't even the 1997 musical The Life. Clearly, Midnight Street is not trying to offer a realistic depiction of what it means to be a prostitute. But if not, then why this story and these characters? We don't ever learn. I have to wonder what compelled Cohen to romanticize prostitution in the year 2019. And I would have loved to hear the rehearsal conversations between Cohen and his leading lady.
(Midnight Street plays at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, through June 22, 2019. The running time is 70 minutes with no intermission. Performances are Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7; Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 3. Tickets are $49.25 and are available at telecharge.com.)
Midnight Street is written and directed by Arnold L. Cohen. Music Direction by Matt Castle. Set and Costume Design by Craig Napoliello. Lighting Design by Ross Graham. Sound Design by FIVE OHM. Stage Manager is Christine Catti.
The cast is Emily Afton, Rafael Jordan, and Lenny Wolpe.