“Nobody Loves You,” the new musical at New York’s Second Stage, mines rich veins of addictive cruelty, pseudo-intellectual baloney and sitcom fabulousness to skewer both reality-TV shows and the viewers who tweet about them.
The title is the name of a show in which a bunch of lonely hearts is packed off to a house, where they mix and match, hoping to survive the inevitable whittling down as losers are dispatched with the humiliating send-off: “Nobody loves you.”
Airhead Tanya (Leslie Kritzer) is a fan of “Nobody Loves You.” Her philosophy-major boyfriend Jeff (Bryan Fenkart) flaunts his contempt for it and her.
When she dumps him, he wins a place on the show as the resident grouch. His disdain for the false intimacy offers a kind of meta-reality that the audience loves, according to the ratings pop that follows his arrival.
The witty script is by Itamar Moses, a playwright whose “Completeness” is one of the smartest accounts of love among the post-grad set.
Gaby Alter’s pop score by has its moments too, especially in “So Much to Hate,” sung by Jeff and Jenny (Aleque Reid), the love interest he not-unexpectedly finds on “Nobody Loves You.”
It’s a classic anti-love love song in which the lovers catalogue their pet peeves:
“I hate movies with romantic cliches that describe love as this earthly paradise for two,” Jeff sings.
“I hate guys that use their hatred of cliches as an excuse not to do anything that’s nice for you,” Jenny retorts.
The lyrics and tunes are serviceable and sometimes better than that: “You want to be the one they’re thinking of,” a wiser Jeff sings, “That’s why being famous feels like love.”
Michelle Tattenbaum’s production (with calisthenic choreography by Mandy Moore) is lively, congenially put across by a very game cast on Mark Wendland’s utilitarian set.
Sentimental at heart, there’s nothing remotely real about “Nobody Loves You,” but I suppose that’s part of the point.
At Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St. Information: +1-212-246-4422; http://www.2st.com. Rating: ***1/2
That invaluable concert series “Encores!” has spawned a kid sib, “Encores! Off-Center,” whose summer mission is to find unsung musicals that may have gotten short-changed the first time around.
Wednesday night saw a spectacular, one-time only performance of Jeanine Tesori’s “Violet,” featuring Sutton Foster in the title role of a woman seeking a miraculous cure for a disfiguring scar.
Even in this 1997 musical, Tesori -- who also serves as artistic director of “Off-Center” -- revealed a mastery of pastiche in a score (with lyrics by Brian Crawley) that soars with Jesus-praising gospel anthems, torchy ballads, country-tinged soliloquies and energetic dance tunes.
Director Leigh Silverman built the show expertly to a musical peak, at one point bringing the chorus (the gospel choir Songs of Solomon) out into the audience.
Foster brought her typically assured charm and a voice that sometimes struck me as a bit stressed.
The stellar cast included Joshua Henry and Van Hughes as soldiers she meets on the bus trip that frames her journey; the remarkable Emerson Steele as Violet’s younger self, and Chris Sullivan as her guilt-ridden, gentle father. (Rating: ****)
The series started a week earlier with a very rare concert staging of “The Cradle Will Rock” by Marc Blitzstein, a gifted Depression-Era composer best known for his less controversial adaptation of “The Threepenny Opera.”
It concludes next week with that iconic show from 1978, Nancy Ford’s and Gretchen Cryer’s “I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It on the Road.”
“Encores Off-Center” is at City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Information: +1-212-581-1212; http://www.nycitycenter.org.
What the Stars Mean: ***** Fantastic **** Excellent *** Good ** So-So * Poor (No stars) Avoid
(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include movies and New York Weekend.