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Nobody Loves You
The Second Stage Theatre producers, writer Itamar Moses (the brilliantly satiric Bach at Leipzig) and composer Gaby Alter have collaborated to bring to the live musical stage some amusing insight into the specifically dumber than dumb TV experience known as the "reality playoff." Those who are familiar with such shows are inclined to care, envy, detest or be amused by various contestants all anticipating the possibility of elimination are put in awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassing situations with the opposite sex. Those not familiar with these shows will either be struck dumb or happily seduced.
Moses and Alter have, however, have put a cleverly satirical spin and perspective on this aspect of pop culture: a would-be spoiler goes home with the spoils from a show that he has set out to out-smart. Young, intelligent graduate student Jeff (Bryan Fenkart) simply cannot fathom how his girlfriend Nina (Leslie Kritzer) can derive pleasure from watching the pathetic and needy contestants on Nobody Loves You as one by one they get the boot. She resents his put-down of the show prompting her to not only audition for it but also to leave him in a huff.
Jeff then secretly auditions with plans to win her back and also to use the experience as the basis for his dissertation on Ontology. The comical thread is as far-fetched as it is unlikely since the TV producers have failed to pick Nina. Instead hey've picked Jeff as a contestant, despite his open disdain for the show. Intrigued by his negative attitude but looking for a new angle to market the show, the lead producer Tanya (also played by Kritzer) plays along. However, an unexpected romancedevelops between Jeff and Jenny (Aleque Reid), a production assistant-would-be-filmmaker who shares his contemptuously condescending feelings for the show.
The show must go on, so must Alter's up-tempo, mainly forgettable tunes sparked by plenty of twisty lyrics by both Alter and Moses. Within the confines designated as living and playing quarters (the pillow fight room, the leather room, and the hot tub for examples) we meet the various contestants all of whom have the job of initiating romantic urges in the pursuit of permanent relationships.
Of course, it's inane and inclined to become more so under the firm and frenetic direction of Michelle Tattenbaum. Having directed the world premiere of this musical at the Old Globe in 2012, she continues the working relationship she began with Moses directing the world premiere of his plays Love/Stories (or But You Will Get Used To It at the Flea.
If the personable, attractive and talented Fenkart and Reid perform the lead roles with aplomb, they share the spotlight with a cast that is bright and winning. There is ample opportunity to be mortified at the lengths to which the sex-intoxicated exhibitionist (Laura Molina) will go to win the affection of born-again rube named Christian (Roe Hartrampf), or the desperate measures taken by hyper insecure alcoholic schoolteacher (Autumn Hurlbert) to win anyone in pants.
While there isn't much tension or anxiety built around who will win (a similar problem with Hands On a Hard Body ) the probability that Jeff will gets what he wants is as predictable as that of the show's producers. Generating the biggest laughs is triple-cast Rory O'Malley who is at his most hilarious as a gay couch potato and ardent fan of the show whose singing, motor-mouthed "tweets" are comical highlights.
Heath Calvert, who originated his role at the Old Globe, gives a deftly dim performance as the show's good-looking host whose jumbled metaphors and similes are good for laughs. ("Like baby teeth falling from a child's mouth" and my favorite, "When our Live Grand Finale returns, a special surprise that will blow your minds right out of the water. And up a creek. After this.")
Two-time Emmy Award Choreographer Mandy Moore is best known for her work on the TV hit So You Think You Can Dance but is making an impressive New York stage debut tying the movement of each character's quirky personality to director Tattenbaum's vision. Set designer Mark Wendland and lighting designer Ben Stanton are in perfect synch keeping up with real time and show time. I couldn't keep up with all of the au courant high tech tweeting references, but it was no barrier to enjoying these playoffs set to music.
For a review by our LA critic when the show played at the Old Glove go here.
©Copyright 2013, Elyse Sommer.
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