By Patricia Morris Buckley | SDUN Theater Critic
Usually, reality shows are not the best way to get a date in a romantic mood. “Nobody Loves You,” a new musical premiering at the Old Globe Theatre, is the exception to the rule.
This eight-person show is not-too-sweet, wildly entertaining and filled with catchy tunes. It also tries to sneak in commentary about reality TV, but never goes deep enough to make any lasting statement. The only criticism that digs below the layers of reality show nonsense is the lyric, “ being famous feels like love.” Kim Kardashian, with her lightning short marriage, would probably agree.
The story opens with the breakup of Ph.D. candidate Jeff and his live-in love Tanya, who are obviously mismatched. The trouble comes to a head when she wants Jeff to watch the reality show “Nobody Loves You” and he refuses with biting sarcasm. To get Tanya back, he decides to go on the show after hearing she auditioned.
Selected for his dismissive wit, Jeff discovers Tanya turned down the show because she has a new guy. Still, he sees his participation as an opportunity to work on his doctoral thesis on the difference between reality and fiction.
“Nobody Loves You” borrows haphazardly from a number of reality shows in such a way it could never really work as a game show, but that doesn’t make it any less hilarious or supercilious. The parody is done with such razor-like precision that it slices through our disbelief.
The excellent cast goes far in selling the premise. Heath Calvert plays the role of reality show host Byron with just the right mix of pretentiousness, piled on charm and barely contained professionalism.
Adam Cantor is the acerbic Jeff; the one who grows the most, yet never truly changes. Cantor nicely balances the character’s witty insights and the emotional blindness. As his potential love interest Jenny, Jenni Barber fights hard to make a milk toast character interesting, which is essential for the show to work. We have to believe these two are really falling for each other, and not for fame, which Cantor and Barber certainly do.
Alex Brightman, one actor who plays three roles, practically steals the show. It helps that he’s given the best tune, “The Twitter Song,” which has not yet escaped the soundtrack in my head. Nicole Lewis is also convincing in her three roles, including that of Tanya.
Gaby Alter and Itamar Moses (the latter once served as playwright-in-residence at The Globe) crafted a fun show that flows seamlessly. The characters are interesting, the conflict quite modern in flavor and the songs are traditional theater fare with an updated flare. Michelle Tattenbaum’s direction keeps the story from being too saccharin sweet, but warm enough to be endearing.
I only have one major quibble with the plot. One pair on the reality show is Christian (who is a Christian) and Megan. Megan admits to being an alcoholic and Christian tells her he doesn’t like it – but takes her back without any promise that she will get help. Even in the fiction of reality TV, I don’t see that happening. If she at one point agreed to even think about getting help, it would be a less bitter pill to swallow.
As usual, The Old Globe’s designs elements are well done. Mandy Moore’s choreography is sharp. Michael Schweikardt’s set made the in-the-round stage work. Emily Pepper’s costumes and Tyler Micoleau’s lights heighten the play’s mood.
It’s odd to tell someone to see a play about heartbreak, nationally aired embarrassment and reality shows as entertainment. But “Nobody Loves You” turns out to be a great date show. In fact, the title should be “Everyone Loves You.”