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Aisle View: Reality Show as Stage Musical

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Shakespeare, who philosophized at great length, never suggested that "all the world's a reality show." A stage is what he compared the human condition to, but it was only a matter of time -- or centuries -- until reality show and stage started to merge. We have seen casting sessions for several Broadway and West End musicals on the telly, yes; but now we have Nobody Loves You, an off-Broadway musical at Second Stage which puts a reality show onstage instead of the other way around.

Nobody Loves You is the title of both the show and the TV show-within-the-show. Attractive singles seek to pair up as the audience watches, in weekly installments. At the end of the episode, you get booted off if -- well, if nobody loves you. All of this happens, mind you, in entertainingly smarmy fashion, with pink the predominating color.

Librettist/co-lyricist Itamar Moses is an accomplished hand, his resumé laced with productions at New York Theatre Workshop (Bach at Leipzig), Playwrights Horizons (Completeness), and San Diego's Old Globe. (Nobody Loves You originated at the latter, in May 2012.) Moses runs into an instant problem with his reality show musical, though. It's hard to populate the contestant pool with only five actors; the other three characters are ever-present TV show personnel. This leaves limited personnel possibilities, especially when the plot requires that contestants be axed each week. Which is to say that Nobody Loves You suffers from an age-old stage problem: a play-within-a-play that can't support the evening.

Composer/co-lyricist Gaby Alter toils under the same predicament as Moses. The songs are suitable for reality show sketches -- like the one in the hot tub for the slutty babe and the virginal Christian, called (what else?) "Come on In" -- but are mostly fleeting. There's only one ballad, "Jenny's Song," that sounds like it might be something more. The songwriters also provide a highly amusing but extraneous song for a tweeting viewer watching on the couch, called (what else?) "The Twitter Song." This got the heartiest response at the preview attended, perhaps because it was delivered by the accomplished Rory O'Malley, who until recently taught Mormon boys to "Turn It Off" over at the Eugene O'Neill.

Nobody Loves You is about a girl (Leslie Kritzer) who breaks up with her guy (Bryan Fenkart) and auditions for the reality show in question. Except it's not. The boy also auditions, and gets on the show; but the girl -- who controls the first two scenes of the musical -- is never again seen. Except Ms. Kritzer returns in the third scene to select her ex-boyfriend to be on the show. Except the easily identifiable Ms. Kritzer is apparently meant to be a different character here, and another actress altogether turns out to be the female lead.

Mr. Moses and director Michelle Tattenbaum keep things moving, but neither plot nor score are compelling. As a ninety-minute summer's night entertainment, Nobody Loves You is likably good-natured and bolstered by the performances of Fenkart, Kritzer, a newcomer named Aleque Reid (as the tech assistant who falls for the hero) and Mr. O'Malley (in three roles). While the show could find an afterlife in small venues on the regional and stock circuit, Nobody Loves You does not begin to approach the level of such Second Stage musicals as Next to Normal, Dogfight, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.