ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp California Review
Nobody Loves You
By Jon Magaril
Philosophy grad student Jeff (Adam Kantor) gets dumped by his girlfriend Tanya (the impressively versatile Nicole Davis) because he'd rather write about the nature of reality than watch her favorite reality program Nobody Loves You. When she divulges her plan to join the show, he auditions with the hope of winning her back. Complications ensue when he gets cast, she doesn't, and the producer (also Ms Davis) thinks his refreshingly outspoken criticism of the show may revive sagging ratings.
The musical's creative team has found the perfect tone to take on a subject that pretty much parodies itself. The characters most in touch with reality are treated with appealing restraint. Jeff's decision to stay on the show is cemented by meeting Jenny (Jenni Barber), an aspiring filmmaker paying her dues as an overworked assistant producer. The pair create a true bond by sharing war stories of fake modern love in the memorable “So Much to Hate.”
Kantor is believable as both an ontological thinker and a romantic — no mean feat. There's a whiff of smugness about him that's uninviting but, as the musical teaches us, nobody's perfect. I can't figure out how Barber's Jenni isn't perfect and I'm not going to try. Both Kantor and Barber prove essential to the production's success by giving us a couple to care about.
Exaggeration is used for the characters who've constructed a persona to make themselves seem more attractive. The production studio/“mansion,” which the contestants are forbidden to leave, becomes a distorting house of mirrors in which each reflects whom he or she thinks the others might choose. The dry, hot air of Heath Calvert's empty-headed host and the playful exuberance of Lauren Molina, Kelsey Kurz, and Kate Morgan Chadwick's would-be mates lift the production over the traps of contempt or condescension.
The show brings a smile that starts with its title and extends through the jaunty curtain call. Michele Tattenbaum's direction makes every moment ping. If the piece seems ten minutes or so too long, the problem isn't her pacing. It's the writers' distended denouement.
Tattenbaum has brought together a top team of designers. Each of Emily Pepper's costumes elicits a guffaw or a desire to know where to buy it. In particular the Nordic pajama onesie for scene-stealer Alex Brightman's Evan may be the funniest, most character-defining piece I've seen in years.
This chamber charmer is a lark for both the audience and librettist/co-lyricist Itamar Moses, whose off-Broadway plays usually involve weightier matters and trickier structures. He's not coasting here or selling out. The show will probably have a more profitable life than most of his work, perhaps in an extended off-Broadway run and certainly in regional theaters and schools. But he seems thoroughly engaged with the material, mining it for a multitude of laughs and morsels of topical issues.
The show-within-the-show's ridiculously funny theme song, “Which Love Is For Real?” raises a question that flows genuinely through every aspect of the piece. Moses lets Jeff off the hook much too easily when he shifts his attention presto change-o from Tanya to Jenny. But towards the end, when Jeff breaks his promise of keeping their relationship away from the cameras, Moses hits on the most current of romantic conundrums: how do you establish trust in a culture that leaves diminishing room for private connection?
It's moments like these, played only glancingly as drama, which keep Nobody Loves You from spinning off into silliness. Mandy Moore's choreography is vivid fun. And Gaby Altar's peppy music keeps things popping. It lacks distinction, which limits the show's impact. But it serves as an effective platform for his and Moses' clever, conversational lyrics.
Nobody Loves You probably won't be the love of your theatrical life. But its satisfactions run deeper than a typical one night stand. You may even want to make another date every now and then to relive the good times. Everyone associated with this delightfully barbed romance deserves a rose.