I had the opportunity to see the new musical Nobody Loves You a few years ago while it was still under development.
Some backstory: For the past three years, a handful of students from the Boston Conservatory have participated in the Festival of New Artists at the venerable Goodspeed Opera House. While attending the Festival, I've had the pleasure of watching my students perform in staged readings of a number of promising new musicals, but Nobody Loves You marks the first time that of these shows has made it to a major stage in New York City.
When I saw the reading of Nobody Loves You in 2011, I was moderately entertained, but not really blown away. I remember thinking authors Itamar Moses (book and lyrics) and Gaby Alter (music) would need to do a good deal of work before the show might have any chance of a commercial future.
Well, cut to 2013, and it appears that Moses and Alter have indeed done a considerable amount of work on Nobody Loves You, at least as evidenced by the delightful new production at the Second Stage Theatre. Their efforts, combined with the taut comic direction by Michelle Tattenbaum, and a dynamite cast of some of New York's best working actors (but, alas, none of my students from that initial reading) have made Nobody Loves You an infectious comic confection that also just might have something to say as well.
Nobody Loves You is also the title of a fictional reality TV show within the show. The lead male, Jeff, is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy doing his dissertation on ontology. (A.K.A. The nature of reality. Get it?) Jeff's girlfriend breaks up with him because he's so cynical about her enthusiasm for reality TV. Jeff auditions for her favorite show in an effort to get her back.
Now, admittedly, reality TV is a pretty easy target for ridicule. But Moses has the chops to actually hit this blight where it lives, smartly dissecting the sociological aspects of the genre without ever making it seem didactic. In fact, the show is a buoyant delight, thanks in part to Moses's sharp characterizations and facile feel for comedy.
Moses is aided immeasurably in this regard by the superb cast. As the two leads, the philosophy student and the TV production assistant who fall for each other over the course of the show, we have Bryan Fenkart and Aleque Reid, both remarkably appealing and nuanced as the reluctant participants in this crass phenomenon.
In the supporting cast are three of the most reliable performers now working: Leslie Kritzer, Rory O'Malley, and Lauren Molina. Kritzer is a pro, and handles her multiple roles with equal comic dexterity. Rory O'Malley was virtually unrecognizable at first. His countenance for his character at the top of the show was just so at-odds with that of his Tony-nominated role in The Book of Mormon, it wasn't until later in the show when he was playing a gay blogger that I even realized it was him. That's range. Lauren Molina likewise demonstrates her great versatility in a delightfully trashy role that is markedly different from her roles in both Sweeney Todd and Rock of Ages. And Heath Calvert is endearingly vapid as the reality show's host.The only sour notes, pun intended, in the show came from the music department. Gaby Alter's uptempo tunes often seem like they're on a fruitless search for a melody, and the sound level often bordered on deafening. (Admittedly, not necessarily the composer's fault, but a liability nonetheless.) Plus, some of his ballads feature rather odd-sounding intervals. But Nobody Loves You isn't really a show that's about pretty tunes and hummable melodies. It's feel-good satire, if that makes any sense, and one that introduces the musical-theater world to a promising new writing team.