It was only a matter of time before reality television infiltrated the American theater. In recent memory we've seen variations on Big Brother (Theresa Rebeck's messy Our House) and Intervention (Rod McLaughlin's deep Good Television). Now, with the arrival of Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter's inconsequential but enjoyably silly Nobody Loves You at Second Stage Theatre, we've got a variation on The Bachelor. And it's a musical, to boot.
Unsurprisingly, The Bachelor doesn't really lend itself to the musical treatment the way, say, American Idol would, and Nobody Loves You, despite an excellent cast of quirky characters, doesn't always make the best case for why this reality genre should sing. However, realizing that Moses, the first-rate playwright of Completeness, The Four of Us, and Bach at Leipzig, and rising-composer Alter are shooting for satire over seriousness goes a long way in helping your enjoyment of the silly, low-stakes ninety-minute production, which is directed by Michelle Tattenbaum.
The reality show within the musical is called Nobody Loves You, a long-running but ratings-challenged matchmaking competition where a group of eccentrics live together and must find their true loves. If they can't (or America doesn't vote for them), they risk eviction with the thoroughly brow-beating line, "It's time to pack your things and leave the house. Because? Nobody loves you."
At the heart is Jeff (Bryan Fenkart), a graduate student in ontology who auditions for the program to win back his ex-girlfriend who, naturally, dumped him because he thinks reality shows are stupid and subsequently auditioned herself. But she didn't get picked. He did. The producer (Leslie Kritzer in a variety of roles) views his standoffish, incendiary style as the potential for a ratings bonanza. That dream comes true when Jeff, realizing that his experiences are perfect for his dissertation on the perceptions of reality, falls for Jenny (Aleque Reid), the hard-working assistant producer.
Fenkart and Reid infuse a lot of life into their generally vanilla characters and are inherently loveable. You root for their romance to succeed even though the dramatic obstacles thrown in their way are as manufactured as they can get. The always-hilarious Kritzer nails the hard-edged, no-nonsense television producer with the mere twist of her face and, in a cameo as contestant Zenobia, brings down the house with a few choice words in Spanish. Similarly, Heath Calvert provides a handful of exceedingly funny moments as Byron, the Ryan Seacrest-molded Nobody Loves You host, a hunk with shellacked hair, a deep voice, a moderate personality, and absolutely nothing else.
The five-member ensemble of contestants, played by Roe Hartrampf (Christian, the religious guy), Autumn Hurlbert (Samantha, the clingy girl who can't keep a boyfriend), Lauren Molina (Megan, the sexy one), and Rory O'Malley (Dominic, the toughie), make distinct comic impressions. O'Malley in particular also does well in his other roles, namely the couch-dwelling, animal-face-shirt-wearing, Twitter-obsessed fan Evan. Tattenbaum's production, with choreography by So You Think You Can Dance Emmy nominee Mandy Moore, turns every song into an eighties MTV-style music video, complete with flashing lights (designed by Ben Stanton) and flashy costumes (by Jessica Pabst).
Moses' book, with sharp barbs like "What if there's someone out there who just already is the guy I was always trying to get you to be?" makes some truly smart, comments about the concocted drama and romance within the genre of reality television. Alter's music relies a bit too heavily on generic bubble-gum pop.
Still, there are gems in the score like "So Much to Hate," which plays on the suddenly cynical nature of romance within contemporary American culture. How can one not admire a love song that's all about what the two central lovers despise?