It must be hard to find a rhyme for ontology. But that’s the challenge that playwright Itamar Moses and composer Gaby Alter set for themselves with their new pop musical Nobody Loves You, playing at Off Broadway’s Second Stage Theatre through Aug. 11.
Our prickly and rather unlikable hero, Jeff (Bryan Fenkart), is a philosophy grad student who lands a role on a reality TV dating show called Nobody Loves You that had been the favorite of his ex-girlfriend (Leslie Kritzer), a TV obsessive who confused ontology with optometry and seemed to have no reason to date Jeff except to set the kooky plot in motion. Once on the show, Jeff runs into a mulligan’s stew of stereotypes, gathers notes for his dissertation on the gap between onscreen reality and what’s really going on, and falls for a comely production assistant (Aleque Reid) who shares his cynical world view.
The characters are mostly clichés, but a few performers manage to stand out: Heath Calvert as the vain and none-too-bright host of the show, Autumn Hurlbert as the needy, self-esteem-deficient third-grade-teacher, and Rory O’Malley (The Book of Mormon) pulling triple duty as Jeff’s stoner roommate, a regular-dude contestant, and as an ultra-gay blogger/superfan of the show whose big song consists mostly of slinging the hashtag jokes.
In fact, the show’s biggest shortcoming is Alter’s pleasant but forgettable pop-inflected score, which has a melodic shelf life that’s shorter than any of the reality series the show is seeking to send up. There is a cleverish comic idea at the core of Nobody Loves You. But like many a reality-TV showmance, this musical just isn’t built to last. C+
(Tickets: 2st.com or 212-246-4422)