Just after director Daisy Prince completed work on Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years in the early aughts, she had another idea for a musical, but first she needed a break.
“During that time [off], it lay fallow and I thought, ‘By the time we get around to doing this, who knows whether falsified news stories—or the discussion [around it]—is going to be relevant anymore,” Prince tells Playbill. “Sadly—and happily, I guess—because here we are. I was wrong.”
Prince and Brown’s return to the project, about an aspiring journalist and his potentially questionable navigation of the industry, eerily coincided with the first mentions of “alternative facts” and “fake news.”
Set in 1995 New York, The Connector follows writer Ethan Dobson as his first article is published in the magazine that’s name serves as the musical’s title. It’s a story about hunger and ambition and their costs. (Those who have attended Brown’s residency concerts at SubCulture and heard the song “The Voice of My Generation” know the sound of Ethan’s hubris.)
“He’s lucky enough to land a job at [this] fantastic magazine,” says Prince. “Think New Yorker, although slightly more political than literary. We follow him through his incredibly swift rise to the top of that magazine—lots of articles being published—and seeing what happens to him as they begin to figure out what he’s doing.”
The Connector aims to look at how fake news happens, with a familiar passion, emotional resonance, and moral questioning as Prince and Brown’s previous collaborations—this time with playwright Sherman.
“I was a groupie at Songs for a New World,” says the first-time musical book writer.
“Maybe 20 people saw it, I think 18 of them were Marc,” Prince jokes.
Sherman came into the fold through multiple connections, having met Prince’s husband at Stagedoor Manor theatre camp decades ago and meandering in the same circles since college. The playwright offers a new perspective, and the team first mounted a reading of The Connector’s first half in January 2017.
Now, after an important re-write and the addition of three new songs, the trio looked to the audiences of Vassar College & New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theater to help them hone the show. “Hopefully we have some Powerhouse audience members who like puzzles and who enjoy not having all the answers from the beginning,” Sherman adds in the video above.
As Prince, Brown, and Sherman shuffle the pieces of the puzzle, changing songs, and deepening characters, two questions tether Sherman to The Connector’s own truth: “When did the story become more important than the truth, and can we really look at that on a granular level using one person’s story to tell a bigger story?”
The Connector was presented as part of the Musical Workshops series at Vassar College & New York Stage and Film’s Powerhouse Theatre July 13–15.