David Dodd 2:53 a.m., May 21
TV's most damning expression reigns when the jobless rate's rarely been higher. Viewers wait an hour to hear what's-his-hair shout "you're FIRED!"
Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter's featherweight musical comedy freatures an expression even more damning. When contestants get voted off a reality TV show, somewhat like The Bachelor, the MC tells them, in front of a national audience, "Nobody loves you."
Jeff (Adam Kantor) is writing a dissertation about perception and gaps in reality - or is it gaps in perception? When Tanya (Nicole Lewis) dumps him and auditions for the show, he tries to bring her back.
And becomes a contestant, even though he vows to reveal the reality of reality TV (he may make discoveries, but he expresses them in such high-buck terms they may only make sense to him).
Nobody follows the series in front of, and behind, the cameras. A possible romance blooms off-stage when Jeff and Jenny (Jenni Barber) find something in common: both hate the show. But is true love possible, ontologically speaking, in a world where life's become as illusory as TV?
The 100-minute, intermissionless musical unfolds with obligatory scenes and predictably mismatched pairings. Meagan (Lauren Molina), a free-spirited alcoholic, falls for Christian (Kelsy Kurtz) who's wedded to purity. Director Michelle Tattenbaum and choreographer Mandy Moore keep the show perky, though slow spots need tightening.
Press hoopla claims Nobody is "irreverent," though it's hard to be irreverent about something that's hard to revere. When the authors go for big points - as when Jeff claims that "being famous is like being in love" - they fall flat. And I wish someone would bemoan that reality TV doesn't hire actors, writers, or often even designers. The "story" is in the hands of editors adept at shaping raw data.
The authors touch on a subject they could expand: the erosion of privacy (and how viewers do entitled surveillance). Where they succeed, again and again, are with hilarious asides, throw-away lines, and lyrics. The musical's intermittently entertaining and often funniest where you least expect it.
The cast does competent work, in roles a titch above generic. Two stand out: Heath Clavert's Byron, the tall, tuxedo'd MC, is a hoot. His mind's such a vacant lot, you wonder if he even exists off camera (turns out, he just might). And Alex Brightman plays three distinct characters with distinction. When his Evan sings "The Twitter Song," he stops the show.
Cudos to Paul Peterson. His sound design's so exact you'd swear the orchestra's invisible on stage, rather than beneath it at the White Theatre.
Nobody Loves You , Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Balboa Park, playing through June 17. 619-234-5623.