By Marilyn Lester . . .

The ongoing musical series, Broadway by the Year, has been written, hosted and directed by its creator, Scott Siegel, for over 20 years—quite an achievement! Back for the 21st season, at The Town Hall, after being preempted by two pandemic years, Broadway By The Year: The New Wave returned March 21, 2022 with a big bang of talent, and an amusing opening in which quadruple threat, Danny Gardner interrupted Siegel’s welcome with all too relatable jokes about Zoom.

What followed was a production number, choreographed by and starring Gardner. Full throttle, the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe and the Broadway by the Year Chorus presented a rousing and happy-making “A Musical” from Something Rotten. And hallelujah! we knew we were back! Bookending a spectacular return was the full complement of the Broadway by the Year Chorus, with powerful vocals, arrangement and harmonies offering “Let It Go” (Frozen) inspired by the viral video of a little girl singing the number in a Ukrainian bomb shelter, seeking safety from Russian bombardment above ground.

This edition of Broadway by the Year took a new tack. Siegel had changed up the show several years ago from an individual year being examined to combining several years. For this, The New Wave, the focus was on how Broadway musicals have changed in the last 25 years or so. Pinpointing a few defining turning points in Broadway history, Siegel offered examples in Oklahoma!, the arrival of the Disney musicals, and Hamilton. In a spine-tingling delivery of “Burn” from that show, Jeanine Bruen’s passionate storytelling was mesmerizing. Adan Gallegos followed up with Hamilton’s “Wait for It,” further bold-facing why Lin-Manuel Miranda’s show was a game-changer. And reaching back to the blazing arrival of the socially-conscious Rent on Broadway in 1996, Sara Niemietz rocked “Out Tonight.”

Quentin Earl Darrington

Strong, dramatic leading men remain a feature of contemporary Broadway. A sensational highlight of the evening was Quentin Earl Darrington, who sang the penultimate number of the show with a stirring and unplugged “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime. Darrington is not only a talented baritone, but shines with a natural elegance and charisma; plus, he plays to all areas of the audience, top to bottom, with a graciousness that many performers should seek to emulate. A leading tenor, Ben Jones, closed out the first act of the show with the beautiful, but little known “Anthem” from Chess, dedicated to the people of Ukraine, currently engaged in a desperate war of survival and independence. Jones also sang a dedication to Broadway actor, Nick Cordero, an early and tragic victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, with “One of the Great Ones” from A Bronx Tale.

Jenny Lee Stern

Comedy and light-heartedness was an integral part of an evening offsetting the social upheavals of the last two decades spoken of by Siegel. Sweden’s one-of-a-kind “Wonder Woman of Jazz,” Gunhild Carling, who sings, dances and plays multiple instruments, demonstrated all of this, including blowing three trumpets at once. With Danny Gardner, Carling amazed in two perfectly suited numbers: The Drowsy Chaperone’s “Show Off” and “Like Zis/Like Zat” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. A truly inspired Jenny Lee Stern performed all six voices of “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago (now in its 25th year on Broadway) and made hilarious sense of them all. And the brilliantly creative and quirky singer-songwriter Joe Iconis brought along several members of his “family” to perform a few of his works, including the funny and waggish “Party Hat.”

Joe Iconis

One thing is consistently sure about a Siegel-produced event, and that is the talent is always of the best caliber. Shows are also jam-packed with more than can be fully written about—and shepherding all the music is, as from the start of the series all those years ago, the prodigiously talented music director-pianist, Ross Patterson. With beautiful arrangements and pianistic mastery, Patterson never fails to make a single baby grand sound like a full orchestra. Additionally, Adam Armstrong on electric and upright bass and Jon Berger on drums, provided rhythmic support and enhancement.

Dates for upcoming Broadway by the Year shows are May 23 “From Ziegfeld to Moulin Rouge” and June 27 “Almost on Broadway.”

Photos: Genevieve Rafter Keddy

Lead Photo: Danny Gardner and the Broadway By the Year Dance Troupe & Chorus