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March 8, 2024
Fake News Musical
The Connector

The latest musical by Jason Robert Brown about working and fact-checking is set at a famous New York magazine in the late 1990’s before the term “fake news” became so popular. Those of us who have worked in newspapers and magazines will feel an immediate affinity with the writers who work at The Connector, a notable New York magazine reminiscent of The New Yorker and The New Republic.

Then people relied on newspapers, magazines and TV to get their news. Today, lightning fast and often without confirmation, “news” is out and spreads. Sometimes the need to be the first to report overrides the need to verify. Inspired by Stephen Glass who wrote for The New Republic and Jayson Blair who invented stories for the Times, playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman tackles both fake news and the glass ceiling, two themes that remain relevant today. Director Daisy Prince, who has worked with Brown before, does a fine job establishing heroes and villains.

The story is about Ethan Dobson (well-played by Ben Levi Ross,) a Princeton graduate whose article in the school paper impresses Conrad O’Brien (earnestly portrayed and sung by Scott Bakula.) O’Brien, editor of the prestigious magazine, The Connector, sees himself in Ethan and takes him under his wing. In contrast is Robin Martinez (Hannah Cruz) who has been working on the copy desk, hoping to get her work noticed and published. She continues to submit stories to Conrad, but he scarcely glances at them, unlike Ethan who gets welcomed into the white boys’ club immediately. The audience assumes that much of her treatment is because she is a Latina. Conrad barely acknowledges her writing but gives her lip service, telling her to keep trying.

O’Brien mentors Ethan, advising him to keep pushing, and telling him not to play it safe and that’s exactly what the young writer does. Ethan gets his stories published month after month, despite the misgivings of Murial, the head of the magazine’s fact-checking department, (a tough honest Jessica Molaskey who represents the morality of the magazine.) Murial finds Ethan to be too glib, yet Conrad is immediately won over by him.

Ross is excellent as Ethan, the young conniver. He obviously writes well but is even better at manipulating people. He shows no remorse, even when he brings Conrad and the magazine down. Ross has a wonderful voice and it's easy to imagine him in other young ‘angsty’ roles like Evan Hanson.

Cruz is the first performer we hear, and she is almost like a narrator. In the beginning, Robin is Ethan’s colleague and friend. She is understandably envious of the opportunities he’s given, and Cruz does a fine job conveying Robin’s frustrations.

The most enjoyable songs are the ones which depict Ethan’s stories. One about a Scrabble champion named Waldo features Max Crumm as the off-beat eccentric hustler who takes on all comers in a NYC park. It's a colorful number with the entire cast and Crumm was terrific. Unfortunately, it was his only solo number.

The action is set in front of a backdrop grid of magazine covers (set design by Beowulf Borritt) reminding us of the 50 years the magazine has been in publication.

Often, we react to theater on a personal level and The Connector provides much to consider. It also reminds us to evaluate the source of our information before we react to it.

MCC Theater
511 W. 52 St.
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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