Alex Brightman in his scene-stealing one-piece sweatsuit as Evan in Gaby… (Henry DiRocco )
Reality TV has plenty to recommend it — even beyond Schadenfreude — but likable characters are not its long suit. “Nobody Loves You,” an original musical premiering at the Old Globe in San Diego, is about a fictional televised dating contest also called “Nobody Loves You,” a mash-up of “The Bachelor” and “Paradise Hotel” with some clever original twists.
The risk of the premise is a parade of objectionable people mocking themselves in song. But the clever co-creators, Gaby Alter (music and lyrics) and Itamar Moses (book and lyrics), have made their two leads scorn reality TV, ensuring that everyone in the audience, from the reality junkie to the serious hater, will find someone to relate to on this production’s intimate, in-the-round stage.
Jeff (Adam Kantor) is writing his dissertation on ontology, or the study of — how perfect is this? — reality. When his girlfriend, Tanya (Nicole Lewis), leaves him to try out for “Nobody Loves You,” Jeff vengefully makes his own audition tape, openly admitting both his disdain for the show and his true goal: not to find love but to stop Tanya from finding it.
Producer Nina (also played by Lewis) likes his contrarian pose and casts him — instead of Tanya. “You’re incredibly real,” Nina and the show’s handsome, fluffy host, Byron (Heath Calvert, an über-Chris Harrison), serenade him. Jeff decides to stay, but only to collect material for his dissertation. He spends his time narrating clinical observations into a digital recorder — a practice that, implausibly, enables him to last until the final round.
More important, it puts him in contact with Jenny (winsome Jenni Barber), a brusque behind-the-scenes story editor who really wants to make movies. They fall in love over “So Much to Hate,” a duet of shared and diverging bêtes noires. The trouble in paradise: They can't be sure that their reality is any more “real” than the show's.
Only four other contestants appear onstage: Samantha (Kate Morgan Chadwick), who loves not wisely but too well; Christian (Kelsey Kurz), a devout young man conflicted about his lust; drunk floozy Megan (the wonderful Lauren Molina); and Dominic (Alex Brightman, in the least convincing of his three roles — mostly because the other two are so delicious).
The writers must have had a hard time trying to decide how much of the TV show itself to put in, and they have possibly put in too much. But Megan and Christian’s zesty, hilarious duet in the hot tub room, “Come On In,” must definitely stay.
Another keeper is “The Twitter Song,” performed by Evan (Brightman in the best of his three roles; a close second is his turn as Jeff’s stoner roommate), a reality junkie who watches and tweets from his couch, dressed in a royal blue “OnePiece of Norway” sweatsuit. Probably the first time the word “hashtag” has been set to music, this number struck me as the clarion call of a new generation’s reclamation of the starchy old musical. "Nobody Loves You's" book and songs might feel a little first drafty, but they're still fresh, pertinent and very, very funny.
“Nobody Loves You,” the Old Globe, Balboa Park, San Diego. 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 7 p.m. Sundays; some exceptions. $29 and up. (619) 234-5623 or www.theoldglobe.org. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.