Something for everyone in ‘Broadway by the Year: The New Wave’ at The Town Hall

After a hiatus of 25 months over the course of the pandemic, creator, writer, director, and host Scott Siegel launched the 21st season of his popular critically acclaimed Broadway by the Year series at The Town Hall on Monday night with The New Wave, shining a spotlight on the defining musicals, songs, and writers of the past 25 years. Along with Siegel’s enlightening commentary, the highly entertaining performances by a roster of stars and emerging artists brought all the energy, excitement, and top-notch talent that is Broadway and reaffirmed that there is something for everyone in the wide variety of trends and offerings that characterize the contemporary Broadway stage.

Danny Gardner (center) and the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe. Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.

Resident choreographer Danny Gardner, joined by the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe and Chorus, and backed by the first-rate three-piece band of Adam Armstrong on bass, Jon Berger on drums, and Ross Patterson (who has served as musical director, arranger, and band leader for the entire history of Broadway by the Year) on piano, kicked off the evening with his ebullient song-and-dance tribute to what he missed the most during the shutdown – “The Musical” (from Something Rotten!). Representing the current vogue of theatrical self-referencing, the upbeat number featured Gardner’s original choreography, filled with humor and high kicks, created exclusively for the one-night-only performance.

In signature format, Siegel, a devoted theater historian, remained on stage, behind a lectern, throughout the show. Between songs, he discussed the predominant elements and groundbreaking artists of the recent decades and introduced the evening’s individual numbers and performers with informative facts and interesting anecdotes that tied them to the theme of “the new wave.” He also paid homage to the people of Ukraine, with his selection of two touching songs dedicated to them at the end of each act – “Anthem” from Chess, about leaving one’s homeland; and “Let It Go” from Frozen, which was recently recorded on a video that went viral by a seven-year-old Ukrainian girl in a bomb shelter in Kyiv – providing proof positive of the universality and pertinence of musical theater.

The two-act production noted such major Broadway trends as the jukebox musical, famous pop stars creating shows and scores, animated Disney films being adapted for the stage, a movement towards greater diversity of representation, and an appeal to a youthful audience, fueled by rock music, the focus on young lead characters, the reimagining of historical themes from today’s perspective, and reaching a new generation of theater-lovers via social media. It also acknowledged the significance of such cutting-edge innovators as Jonathan Larson, Jason Robert Brown, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Joe Iconis, whose music, lyrics, and librettos have served to revitalize Broadway and to keep the theater alive and relevant for our present times.

Quentin Earl Darrington. Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.

Among the stellar performances were the rich, resonant, sophisticated vocals of the outstanding Quentin Earl Darrington (now appearing on Broadway in MJ: The Musical) on “Circle of Life” from The Lion King, “Waving through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen, and “Make Them Hear You” from Ragtime; the robust rock stylings of Sara Neimietz on “Out Tonight” from Rent and “The History of Wrong Guys” from Kinky Boots (which garnered the Tony Award for Best Score, making Cyndi Lauper the first sole woman in history to win the category); and the beautiful heartfelt emotion of Ben Jones on “It All Fades Away” from The Bridges of Madison County and “One of the Great Ones” from A Bronx Tale (dedicated to the memory of its late star Nick Cordero, lost to COVID-19). Jeanine Bruen impressed with her compelling voice, timing, and sentiment on “Burn” and Adan Gallegos skillfully built to a strong crescendo on “Wait for It” – two songs from Hamilton that were preceded by Siegel’s quote from their creator Miranda, apropos to the theme of The New Wave, that they’re “about America then, told by America now.”

Other cast members not only sang their songs but enacted them, endowing them with the sensibility of a staged mini-musical. Swedish multi-hyphenate Gunhild Carling partnered with Danny Gardner on over-the-top renditions of “Show Off” from The Drowsy Chaperone and “Like Zis/Like Zat” from Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, singing, dancing, mugging, and playing an array of instruments, including three trumpets at once. And Jenny Lee Stern presented hilarious in-character performances of The Little Mermaid’s “Poor Unfortunate Soul” and the iconic “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, assuming all six roles and distinctive voices, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Broadway revival.

Joe Iconis, Jason SweetTooth Williams, and Lauren Marcus. Photo by Genevieve Rafter Keddy.

Another fan favorite and a highlight of the show, opening the second act with a three-song set, was Tony nominee Joe Iconis, invited by Siegel to represent “the new wave” of Broadway writers. The ever engaging, amiable, and amusing Iconis took some time to address the audience, sharing his feelings about being a part of Broadway by the Year and joking about his thoughts on what to expect in his performance. He began with the smash hit “Michael in the Bathroom” – a viral video sensation with never-ending hundreds of millions of views that propelled his musical Be More Chill to Broadway – singing, accompanying himself on piano, capturing the high-school character’s story and feelings in his gestures and facial expressions, and getting an audible response throughout from the audience.

Iconis was then joined on stage by long-time collaborators and Be More Chill stars Lauren Marcus and Jason SweetTooth Williams, with Ian Kagey on bass and Seth Eliser on drums and vocals, for two stand-alone songs that were not written as part of a musical but convey fully fleshed-out narrative episodes in the lives of their two quirky characters. Marcus displayed both her powerhouse vocals and comedic acting skills in “Party Hat” (a duet performed with Eliser, with Williams on kazoo) and Williams took the lead on “Flesh & Bone (The Robot’s Song),” bringing his mechanical moves and empathetic voice to the figure. The Iconis and Family segment was vibrant, inventive, and fun, and a perfect embodiment of the best of Broadway now.

Kudos to Scott Siegel and the entire cast for a consistently excellent and uplifting view of the talent and variety the new Broadway has to offer. No, the theater is not dead; it’s alive and going strong in NYC.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, including an intermission.

Broadway by the Year: The New Wave played on Monday, March 21, 2022, at 8:00 pm, at The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street, NYC. The series returns to The Town Hall on Monday, May 23, with its next one-night-only installment, From Ziegfeld to Moulin Rouge, tracing the phenomena of the jukebox musical and the musical revue. For tickets, call the box office at (212) 997-6661, or go online.


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