THE CONNECTOR Connects Fun, Wobbly Dots — Review
In The Connector, a new musical premiering at MCC Theater, Ethan Dobson (a golden-voiced Ben Levi Ross) is somewhat of a platonic fabrication. Built from the stories of similarly disgraced real-life journalists like Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair, he rides the Princeton privilege pipeline into a staff writer position at the fictional titular magazine. Doubling down on his editor’s (Scott Bakula) guiding principle that his reporters “are not purveyors of fact, [but] truth tellers,” his stories quickly go from composite characters to complete fabrications.
Conceived and directed by Daisy Prince, the one-act piece is an engaging look at the world of ‘90s journalism, where a rocks tumbler is never too far off. But it begins to coast on three things: perhaps the most varied and rich work composer Jason Robert Brown has done, the cypher-like lead performance from Levi Ross, and a magnetic turn from Hannah Cruz, as his girlfriend-turned-rival. (Special mentions to Jessica Molaskey as a put-upon fact-checker and Mylinda Hull as a reader whose initially nitpicky letters to the editor grow from comic relief to national urgency.)
But Jonathan Marc Sherman’s book could trust the audience to understand that, erm, lying is wrong, and might have been more fun in a Catch Me If You Can vein instead of relying on its overbearing seriousness—which, on par with the state of theater in 2024, concludes in a left-field screed about Holocaust denial.
And, as those around him begin to catch on, Dobson almost completely drops out as a character. I toggled between praising this as a clever distancing from our mystery man’s interiority and wondering if Sherman had just forgotten to fill in the blanks so deftly created by Levi Ross.
The Connector ultimately falls victim to a problem not unlike Dobson’s: the story spun is fun but its details are sketchy, the piece easily strayed by colorful characters too easy in their writerly employs, and an overall tendency toward editorial world-building (Beowulf Boritt does great scenic design work) when journalistic acuity would present a better study.
The Connector is in performance through March 3, 2024 at MCC Theater on West 52ns Street in New York City. For tickets and more information, visit here.