The Connector

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The Connector

MCC Theater, NYC, March 10, 2024

Reviewed by Chip Deffaa

Ben Levi Ross and company
Photo: Joan Marcus

There’s much to love about The Connector, a tautly written, powerful new musical featuring a score by three-time Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown and a book by Jonathan Marc Sherman. It was conceived and directed by Daisy Prince , who also directed Brown’s shows The Last Five Years and Songs for a New World.

This show had its New York premiere in a limited engagement (through March 17, 2024) at the MCC Theater. I hope it can be revived, either as a reprise at the not-for-profit MCC Theater or as a commercial theatrical production. It’s too rewarding a show to have only had a seven-week run in New York.

There are some imperfections, as is the case with all productions, but I enjoyed this show more than any new musical I’ve seen in a good while. I was intrigued from the very first notes of the music, immediately identifiable as that of Jason Robert Brown. I like what he does very much. Incidentally, Concord Theatricals has recorded an original cast album of The Connector, which they plan to release this spring. I’m looking forward to it.

This show has substance, the kind of substance you would expect much more from a drama than from a musical. I was pulled into the story by both the script and the score, and I was held throughout. I cared about the protagonist “Ethan Dobson,” an ambitious, aspiring journalist fresh out of Princeton (played superbly and wholly believably throughout by Ben Levi Ross). I felt for him, as his difficulties, very much of his own making mounted.

Scott Bakula, perhaps best known for starring amiably for five years in the original television version of Quantum Leap, was well cast as Conrad O’Brien, the aging editor of a prominent magazine, The Connector. I love the way Prince has staged one of the best scenes in the show—the musical number “The Voice of My Generation.” She has Ross mirroring Bakula’s movements, which is a wonderful choice that captures both the way O’Brien sees in Dobson a younger version of himself, and the way Dobson covets the kind of success that O’Brien has achieved. Their bonding was touching and utterly true to life. They both, at that point, see only a bright future. We suspect, even if these characters don’t, that the happiness they are currently feeling is not going to last. I liked that scene a lot.

This is a great show that has a lot of power. But I think it would have greater impact if the writing could be tweaked a bit so that we don’t see the ending coming quite as early in the show as we do. If a way can be found to keep us uncertain for a while longer to create more tension, the ending would hit even harder.

The supporting roles are for the most part brilliantly cast as well. The Telsey Office/Patrick Goodwin, CSA have put together an unusually strong cast. I welcomed seeing Jessica Molaskey, Daniel Jenkins, and Eliseo Roman on stage. Making the most of their moments in the spotlight were Michael Winther, affecting the cultured tones of a public-broadcasting interviewer, and Mylinda Hull, who was sheer perfection as the unfortunate Mona Bland, whom most people might ignore, although she has the power to change lives.

The only weak link in the cast was Ashley Perez Flanagan. She has an important role but she’s not acting quite as well as the other leading players. She hasn’t found all that can be found in her character. She’s playing it too much on one emotional level. We feel her anger, as she says things along the lines of “You’re mean!,” “You’re a bully!,” “Life is unfair to me!” Ideally, we need to feel a mix of emotions: that’s she’s hurt, not just angry; that she resents Ethan, whom she sees as privileged and insensitive even though a part of her has also liked him and has maybe felt some attraction to him. Ross gave an emotionally rich, nuanced, and layered performance, and he projected a likability, even if he may be behaving badly. That’s more complex—and more interesting and affecting—than what Flanagan is giving us.

My other significant criticism of the production concerns the sound design. At some moments, the band seemed too loud for the singers, and some lyrics got lost. I couldn’t make out most of the lyrics in “The Western Wall.” Neither could the people sitting near me, as we talked after the show. I’m not faulting the musicians or the singers; I just wish that whoever was in the sound booth deciding how much to amplify the band and how to mix the sounds could have prioritized clarity of the lyrics. In a rock concert presented in some huge arena, the band can be cranked up really high and if audience members don’t understand every lyric, no one cares so long as the overall energy is high. But in musical theater, especially with a score by someone as gifted as Jason Robert Brown, you want to hear every word clearly. The Connector is in a very intimate theater—just 243 seats—and I was sitting in the front row, and the actors were singing just a few feet from me. I should have had no problem hearing all the lyrics throughout the night. Actually, I heard most of the lyrics just fine; but I hated to needlessly miss even some of them.) I’ve seen other Jason Robert Brown musicals in much bigger theaters, with larger casts and bigger bands, but every word came through crystal clear; that’s what we expect when we go to the theater. I’ve never complained about sound design at any of his other shows, but I’m going to have to wait for the cast album to catch all the lyrics to “The Western Wall.”

Get a ticket, if you can. The show, despite some imperfections, is well worth seeing, and I hope it has a good future life.

The MCC Theater does not do a lot to promote their shows, compared to most commercial theatrical producers. You could drive down 52nd Street where its theater is located without even noticing there’s a theater there, much less one that’s currently offering a show by the best musical-theater songwriter of his generation. Ben Levi Ross is giving a breakout performance. I wish the MCC could put up a sign in electric lights or fly banners or do something to let the world know that something special is happening inside.

Chip Deffaa

Chip Deffaa is the author of 16 published plays and eight published books, and the producer of 24 albums. For 18 years he covered entertainment, including music and theater, for The New York Post. In his youth, he studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. He is a graduate of Princeton University and a trustee of the Princeton "Tiger" magazine. He wrote and directed such Off-Broadway successes as "George M. Cohan Tonight!" and "One Night with Fanny Brice." His shows have been performed everywhere from London to Edinburgh to Seoul. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, the Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, NARAS, and ASCAP. He’s won the ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award, the IRNE Award, and a New Jersey Press Association Award. Please visit: