When Scott Bakula was considering taking a role in the new Jason Robert Brown, Daisy Prince, and Jonathan Marc Sherman musical The Connector, his wife (fellow actor Chelsea Field) told him that he had to be willing to be unlikeable. He replied that he was happy to do that.
“I made my career in L.A.—when I first went out there—playing kind of unlikable male characters. Witness Designing Women where I played Annie Potts’ ex-husband: when she was having the baby, I was with my secretary in Mexico on a on a business trip. They had years of fun making fun of my character on that show,” he says.
Though Bakula may have started out a cad, he was far more charming and respectable in the roles that defined his career. Among them, Sam Beckett, the time-traveling physicist in the 1989 series Quantum Leap; Captain Jonathan Archer, chronologically the first captain of the famed titular starship in the 2001 prequel series Star Trek: Enterprise; and team leader (and bar owner) Special Agent Dwayne Pride in the 2014 series NCIS: New Orleans.
Now in The Connector, which opened Off-Broadway February 6 at MCC Theater to rave reviews and an extension until March 17, Bakula is again leading a team. But he makes some ethically questionable decisions. As Conrad O’Brien, editor of The Connector, the fictional magazine at the center of the show, he hires a new golden boy straight out of Princeton (played by Ben Levi Ross), welcoming him into a boy’s club of journalism while a female copy editor (Hannah Cruz) fights to be noticed. His affection for the writer, who reminds him of himself, leads him to overlook some gaping holes in the young man’s writing, calling into question fact versus fiction—flaws pointed out by both the magazine’s female staff and a persistent, dedicated reader.
Bakula’s character may be unlikeable, but that isn’t stopping his television fans from showing up for the actor’s first New York stage appearance since 1988. At the MCC stage door, he’s met fans from England, Canada, Florida, and a mother and daughter who drove from Ohio who arrived just five minutes before curtain. With legions of dedicated admirers (we’re looking at you, Trekkies), it’s even easy to imagine that this is a first theatre trip at all for some of them. “I love being able to expose [them]—a lot of these fans don’t know me from the theatre, they know me from other things. They’re seeing me for the first time on stage. They may know I sing, but they haven’t seen me do anything live. They’re surprised by it. That’s fun to do,” Bakula says.
Before Bakula was a television star, he was actually a musical theatre guy. But his stage appearances are few and far between (both in time and space). He did two Broadway shows before his Tony-nominated lead turn in Romance/Romance in 1988 (he competed against Phantom of the Opera's Michael Crawford for the Lead Actor in a Musical Tony). It was his last New York job before booking Quantum Leap. Since then, he played Nathan Detroit opposite Ellen Greene’s Adelaide in the 2009 Guys and Dolls at the Hollywood Bowl, and he’s appeared a couple of times in musical numbers at Kennedy Center Honors (for Carol Burnett and for Stephen Sondheim).
And he has managed to incorporate his love of music into his television shows. He sang in Quantum Leap several times, as his character Sam time travelled and jumped into various bodies to right history. In NCIS: New Orleans, his law enforcement officer also owned a jazz bar, so he would often hop onto the keys. “I didn’t sing on Star Trek, although we were talking about doing some kind of a musical episode,” he shares (shooting this author straight through the heart with dreams of what might have been).
So, if he’s such a big music guy, why did he even leave New York in the first place, you ask? “I left mad. I left mad because I didn’t see why Michael Crawford should get the Tony Award for the Phantom. That’s what drove me out of town,” Bakula says, then adding, “I’m joking. You know I’m joking.” And before Playbill starts a celebrity feud between Scott Bakula and Michael Crawford, it was clear he was joking. (But if they ever want to do a sing-off, we’re totally here for it!)
Actually, Bakula had already left New York for Los Angeles prior to Romance/Romance. After his Tony nomination, he even extended his contract with the show. A television show that he was doing didn’t get picked up, so he had a couple of months to spare. But before the show closed, returned to Los Angeles for his family—his daughter was young and starting school. Within a month, he had the Quantum Leap audition.
He’s always wanted to get back, but the timing was never right. Until now. “It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years. I’ve kept saying to my agents, ‘Keep looking. I want to find something. I want to go back to New York. I want to end my career on the stage,’” he admits, although retirement seems years away. “And when they called me back in August, they said [casting director and co-artistic director of MCC] ‘Bernie [Telsey] did it. He found it.’ And he did!”
Bakula loves The Connector. He gushes about his fellow cast and the creative team. Brown and Prince by name only were big draws for the actor. Then he read Sherman’s script, “It’s the best book. I can’t even say how good the book is. And then the three of them mesh together—how they’ve crossed all the lines and work to the intricacies of the lyrics and the music and the pulse. It’s really been amazing. I’m astounded by it, and it just keeps getting better.”
And he loves being back on the stage.
“I kind of pinch myself every night. Jason Brown walked by me last night, and he said, ‘I woke up this morning, and I thought, ‘Hey, I get to go play my show today.’ And that’s Jason Robert Brown saying that, in passing, in a hallway behind the theatre,” Bakula says. “And I'm like, ‘Yeah. Pinch yourself.’ Because this doesn't happen regularly. For me, it's been a while.”