San Diego Theater Review: NOBODY LOVES YOU (World Premiere Musical Comedy at the Old Globe)

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by Tony Frankel on May 23, 2012

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

MUSICAL TAKES ON REALITY TV

What better place than the stage to examine the phenomenon of Reality TV? One would hope that by now, Americans would be wise to the fact that these shows, whether romantic or adventurous, are not reality at all. In the new musical Nobody Loves You, the protagonist Jeff says that “[these shows] are a toxic lie about how your life is supposed to feel, with black and white choices, and conflicts that get neatly resolved, and a soundtrack, but, guess what, real choices aren’t so clear, and real conflicts aren’t easily resolved.” He’s right. On Survivor, contestants gruelingly compete for a million dollars in the jungle, but there is a catering truck just off camera. On the dating front, shows such as The Bachelor and The Cougar have contestants vie for the heart of a hot, rich guy or a MILF, but dialogue that would tell the true story is edited out by unscrupulous producers. Even with the knowledge that 90% of the couples who get engaged on The Bachelor eventually break-up within a year, addicts continue to watch obsessively these inauthentic tales of faultless romance.

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old GlobeThe exciting and insightful playwright Itamar Moses (Completeness) has hit upon a fascinating concept, one which satirizes those who watch, those who produce, and those who participate in a Reality TV dating show called “Nobody Loves You” – sort of a mash-up between Fear Factor, Big Brother, and The Bachelor.

When a Reality TV-hating guy named Jeff (Adam Kantor) applies to be on the show in order to woo another contestant – specifically, his ex-girlfriend – his brash cynicism about the process intrigues the producer Nina (Nicole Lewis). Jeff’s ex doesn’t make the cut, but he remains on the show as a contestant. He becomes a non-believing observer, recording notes as fodder for his Ontology dissertation. The twist is that Jeff falls for the assistant producer Jenny (Jenni Barber), and their newfound romance inadvertently becomes material for the devious producer. Now Jeff must grapple with his own views on reality versus perception.

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old GlobeMoses approached his friend Gaby Alter to compose the songs and co-write the lyrics. While their musical is extremely likeable, engaging and entertaining, it remains an uneven effort. More character work needs to be done in order for Nobody Loves You to contain the proper balance between spoof and romantic musical. Even so, the World Premiere project, which opened this week at the Old Globe, stands to become an old-fashioned musical comedy hit for the Twitter generation. In order for the writers to find wider appeal, however, their songs need to take a cue from another musical that co-opted television: Avenue Q, the score of which contain bouncier melodies and tighter lyrics. If Moses and Alter can achieve songs of that caliber, then this musical will have a sharper take on the disparity between love according to Reality TV and the reality of adult relationships. My big concern is Alter, whose music can safely be called bright but forgettable pop/rock; the lyrics may have hooks, but the melodies do not.

The boys are definitely on the way with a song that exposes universal truths while developing character and plot: When Jeff first encounters Jenny in a control room, their romance blossoms as they acknowledge there is “So Much to Hate.”

JEFF: “I HATE MOVIES WITH ROMANTIC CLICHÉS THAT DESCRIBE LOVE AS THIS EARTHLY PARADISE FOR TWO”

JENNY: “I HATE GUYS THAT USE THEIR HATRED OF CLICHÉS AS AN EXCUSE NOT TO DO ANYTHING THAT’S NICE FOR YOU”

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old GlobeJEFF & JENNY: “I HATE SONGS ABOUT LOVE; I’M SO SICK OF UNREALISTIC IDEAS ABOUT PASSION AND FATE; THERE’S SO MUCH TO HATE”

Yes, the lyrics are a bit clunky, but they suit the light-rock score, which can accommodate the lyrics by squishing in a bunch of sixteenth notes when necessary. However, Moses’ dialogue is shrewd, funny, naturalistic, and loaded with juicy philosophical commentary on social media/television, and the rabid fans who follow Reality TV. His book is inhabited with stereotype, musical comedy-thin characters, but his most engaging creations are the obvious send-ups, specifically the boneheaded and puerile host Byron (played with unctuous vacancy by Heath Calvert), and the twenty-something contestants: the booze-swilling slut Megan (the ridiculously believable Lauren Molina), the religious, right-minded hunk, aptly named Christian (a fine Kelsey Kurz) and the untrusting, self-doubting schoolteacher Samantha (a vulnerable Kate Morgan Chadwick).

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old GlobeAlex Brightman gives a tour de force performance in three separate roles, all of which validate Moses’s ability to create flesh-and-blood characters while spoofing stereotypes: Dominic (the contestant wary of crazy chicks), Chazz (Jeff’s slacker roomie), and Evan (Jenny’s obsessive, nosy gay roommate). Watching the multi-faceted Brightman slip these characters on and off is thrilling. Brightman and other actors are proof-positive that director Michelle Tattenbaum added a good deal of comedy with character-specific choices; her in-the-round staging is aided by choreographer Mandy Moore, whose work on So You Think You Can Dance has her perfectly suited to this material.

Two very important characters are less successful because they appear neither as spoofs nor fully-fleshed people: the passive-aggressive, manipulative producer Nina, and, most importantly, the romantic lead, Jenny (an authentic portrayal by Barber). After six songs introducing likeable, zany characters, Jenny’s first number is “Another Season,” in which she rues her situation as an assistant on a show she hates (she’d rather be a filmmaker). I say this with love, but Who Cares? Because the character is neither kooky nor sympathetic, we are never invested in her outcome. Later, in a duet with Jeff (“I Think I Love You For Real”), the audience squirmed with impatience because the song, like her character, is simply uninteresting and, sadly, boring:

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old Globe

“I WAS ALWAYS SCARED TO TRY AND MAKE MY ART
HIDING MY OWN VISION WAS JUST A WAY OF HIDING ME
AND NOW I SEE I’VE DONE THE SAME THING WITH MY HEART
BURYING IT DEEP INSIDE WHERE NO ONE ELSE COULD SEE”

Reality TV is fake, but people watch it because it feels real to them; as such, they are inspired and filled with hope. The most remarkable thing about this World Premiere outing is that we actually believe there could be a show like “Nobody Loves You,” where dating contestants live in the same house and participate in Ropes Courses, Paintballing and Couple-Swapping. We believe the characters who participate in and watch the show. It feels real to us. Some of the songs also feel real, such as the theme to Nobody Loves You and the duet between Christian and Megan in the hut tub (“Come On In”); other numbers seem weak and untruthful (“Jeff’s Confessional”). And although we believe in his journey, the romance between Jeff and Jenny rings false, something that would never happen in the real world of fake Reality TV.

Tony Frankel’s Review of Nobody Loves You at The Old Globe

photos by Henry DiRocco

Nobody Loves You
Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre at The Old Globe
Balboa Park in San Diego
ends on June 17, 2012
for tickets, call (619) 23-GLOBE or visit Old Globe

{ 2 comments }

Hyenin Kim June 3, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Hi, I want to ask you about the sound track to the musical “Nobody Loves You.” Is there a way to buy it?

Tony Frankel June 4, 2012 at 11:38 am

Hyenin:

This is a tryout musical; as such, there is no recording of an original cast album. Here is a YouTube link with some samplings: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=56WBSbT2e5A

Also, “Soundtrack” refers to films and “Original Cast Albums” refer to stage.

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