Nobody Loves You
Also see Bill's review of Hands on a Hardbody
With La Jolla Playhouse's Hands on a Hardbody, I worried that reality television might be gaining a foothold in musical theatre. As fate would have it, the Old Globe's Nobody Loves You responds to that concern with a sharply observed satire of a reality television dating show.
Philosophy doctoral student Jeff (an appealing Adam Kantor) can't be bothered to put down work on his dissertation to watch his girlfriend Tanya's (Nicole Lewis) favorite TV show, "Nobody Loves You." Tanya gets mad and storms out, but not before revealing that she is planning to audition for the show in hopes of finding a replacement boyfriend. In despair, Jeff also auditions, in the process denouncing reality dating shows as fake and rigged. Only after Jeff is cast does he learn that Tanya wasn't picked to be on the show.
As might be expected, the rest of the reality show cast members turn out to be a collection of 20-something dating stereotypes. There's Megan (Lauren Molina), the good-time girl/slut; Samantha (Kate Morgan Chadwick), who desperately wants romance but who also has impossibly high standards; Dominic (Alex Brightman), who fancies himself a lady's man; and Christian (Kelsey Kurz), who is, well, Christian. But, there's also Jenny (Jenni Barber), a production assistant on the show who shares Jeff's opinion of it. Complications, as they say, ensue.
Playwright Itamar Moses knows these characters and the New York world they inhabit. He gets the way reality programs present fantasy versions of dating and romance. He also knows the limitations of the stereotypes his characters represent and manages not only to humanize them but also to encourage the audience to like each in some way. It doesn't hurt one bit that he's written a good many laugh-out-loud-funny lines in the process.
Composer Gaby Alter has written an appealing set of pop melodies for the talented cast to perform, and with Mr. Moses he has written lyrics that often speed by while still letting the audience in on the joke. For example, in "The Twitter Song," a gay fanboi (Mr. Brightman again) sings about the Twitter feed he is creating while watching one of the show's episodes, including the hashtags he's using to broaden his readership by invoking topics that Twitter users might be following. It's convoluted, but totally on point with the potential for sophisticated uses of social media. It's also hilarious.
Most of the eight-member company plays multiple roles. Mr. Kantor's Jeff is the most conventional of the bunch, and his easy-going manner provides the anchor for what sometimes turns into inspired lunacy. Ms. Barber sings quite well but is perhaps too reticent as an actor (I had a similar concern about her performance in the Old Globe's production of the Burt Bacharach/Steven Sater musical Some Lovers). Mr. Brightman sparkles in particular as Jeff's scuzzy Monday-morning-quarterback roommate Chazz, as well as the aforementioned fanboi. Ms. Chadwick, Mr. Kurz, and Ms. Molina do a good job with finding qualities that will take them out of the stereotypes they are playing. Heath Calvert has the smarmy stupidity of the show's host down cold. Only Ms. Lewis needs to find a bit more depth to play in her portrayals of Jeff's girlfriend Tanya and the show's producer. Perhaps the script could give her a bit more help in this regard.
Director Michelle Tattenbaum has staged several of Mr. Moses' plays, and she knows how to put his humor across, as well as how to create small moments that add greatly to the overall effect. Scenic designer Michael Schweikardt and lighting designer Tyler Micoleau have created spaces around the smallish White Theatre stage that serve to set the characters apart or to bring them together. Emily Pepper's costumes are up-to-the-moment, and Paul Peterson's sound designed deftly blends the voices with the four-piece band playing underneath the stage.
It's a shame that this show's smaller scale may make a New York production problematic. This almost-perfect 90-minute musical deserves to be enjoyed well beyond its world premiere.
Through June 17, 2012, at the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre on the Old Globe campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets ($29 - $72) are available online at www.TheOldGlobe.org, or by phone at (619) 23-GLOBE.
The Old Globe presents Nobody Loves You, Music and Lyrics by Gaby Alter, Book and Lyrics by Itamar Moses. Directed by Michelle Tattenbaum with Vadim Feichtner (Music Director), Mandy Moore (Choreography), Michael Schweikardt (Scenic Design), Emily Pepper (Costume Design), Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Design), Paul Peterson (Sound Design), Stephanie Klapper, CSA (Casting) and Peter Van Dyke (Stage Manager).
The cast includes Jenni Barber (Jenny), Alex Brightman (Chazz, Dominic, Evan), Heath Calvert (Byron), Kate Morgan Chadwick (Samantha, Bonnie), Adam Kantor (Jeff), Kelsey Kurz (Christian, Steve), Nicole Lewis (Tanya, Nina, Zenobia) and Lauren Molina (Megan).