By Manning Harris
Horizon Theatre is presenting a quirky, perky little musical comedy for the digital, reality television age called “Nobody Loves You,” directed by Heidi McKerley, running through April 30.
When I say “little,” I do not mean that in any pejorative sense; quite the reverse. It’s refreshing to see a musical play that is not in any way ponderous or pretentious, yet manages to challenge your thinking while being hugely entertaining.
Let’s plop ourselves in the middle of TV’s notoriously addictive (for some folks) competitive reality shows such as “The Bachelor” or “The Bachelorette.”
When creators Itamar Moses and Gaby Alter premiered their show in 2012 in San Diego, they couldn’t know for sure that reality TV and social media would have such a delicious marriage.
But then a phrase entered the Zeitgeist: “You’re fired,” spoken with an accusatory finger point by the current U.S. President. Here that phrase has been replaced by “Nobody loves you,” the catchphrase (and name of the show) that tells a contestant she/he is out, kaput, and still lovelorn. Worse still, they are off television, which is the only thing that gives legitimacy to their existence.
Sound extreme? We’re just getting started.
We have an attractive young man named Jeff (Patrick Wade) whose girlfriend Tanya (Wendy Melkonian) is obsessed with the show and wants to be a contestant. Jeff, on the other hand, wants to write his philosophy dissertation on the show’s vacuousness. But when Tanya leaves him to audition, he decides to follow, and lo and behold, the TV people love his caustic denunciation (“People can either connect or perform; but not at the same time”). They select Jeff and reject Tanya!
The plot thickens, and I shall not tell all, of course. There are other contestants: a devout Christian named Christian (Ben Thorpe) is paired with a sexy, uninhibited girl named Megan (Jennifer Alice Acker), and they wind up in a hot tub. Bear in mind that every bit of these goings-on is being filmed; even when they’re supposedly off camera, they’re on (does this sound familiar?).
Another lovelorn type is Samantha (Leslie Bellair), who’s paired with Dominic (Austin Tijerina), who’s looking for “a chick who’s stable.” Good luck in this joint.
The smoothtalking Byron (Brad Raymond) is the TV host and is given wacky lines like (“Like scales falling from the hides of ancient lizards, 15 contestants have dwindled to the final six”). He’s a snake-oil charmer who also sings extremely well (or Mr. Raymond does). But then this is a multi-talented cast full of award-winning performers; an excellent reason to see this show.
I must mention that Mr. Tijerina does double duty and also plays uber-fan Evan. He announces to the world that he’ll be tweeting live (“Hashtag: so excited!”), and he gleefully careens around the stage in his swiveling chair (shades of Barbra Streisand’s first Broadway appearance as Miss Marmelstein—yes, I can work her into any discussion). Mr. Tijerina is a stage animal who brightens any stage he’s on.
Our original hero, Jeff, has found a “forbidden” romance with attractive TV staffer Jenny (Jeanette Illidge). Funny thing is—Jeff himself has fallen into the hypnotic, addictive allure of being on camera; it’s a real love/hate relationship.
It occurs to me that Andy Warhol would love this show; he’d say that the TV life is life, not a spoof. And everyone’s getting his/her 15 minutes of fame—sometimes more.
The music director/keyboardist is Alli Lingenfelter; the musicians are Dan Bauman, Lorenzo Sanford, and Bennett Walton. I haven’t mentioned the songs; I’ll let you discover them: “So Much to Hate,” “People Are Stupid,” and other witty numbers.
Speaking of wit, scenic and costume designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay have had lots of fun conjuring up an absurdly colorful TV set; and it’s perfect. Ms. McKerley’s direction is likewise fun and seamless.
“Nobody Loves You” had its Off-Broadway premiere in 2013. Artistic Director Lisa Adler mentioned that Moses (book and lyrics) and Alter (music and lyrics) have continued to fine tune their show, and the Horizon’s production is the first in the nation with the authors’ changes.
Horizon’s intimate theatre is just right for this show; I had a fine, fun time and so will you. Who knows—you might wind up on camera; isn’t that what we all want?
For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.