The critically acclaimed Broadway by the Season series continues in October with the last of its four-concert inaugural season at Kaufman Music Center’s Merkin Hall. A follow-up to creator, producer, director, and host Scott Siegel’s long-running Broadway by the Year concerts, the full-length two-act one-night-only shows present songs from the greatest hits and lesser-known musicals in the history of the Broadway stage. They are introduced by the highly knowledgeable and entertaining Siegel with fascinating, well-researched facts about the times, the casts, and the shows, performed by the stars and emerging artists of today, accompanied by musical director and pianist Ross Patterson and his Little Big Band, and interspersed with lively segments of dance choreographed by resident multi-hyphenate Danny Gardner.
In the previous installment on September 11, the set list featured numbers from such legendary musicals of 1964/65 and 1972/73 as Hello, Dolly!, Funny Girl, Fiddler on the Roof, Pippin, See-Saw, A Little Night Music, Grease, and more, delivered by the star-studded roster of vocalists Julie Benko, John Easterlin, Jill Paice, Maxine Linehan, and Willy Falk, dancers Gardner and Kendrick Jones, clown Bill Irwin, and novelty act Gunhild Carling, each given their moments in the spotlight.
Scott made time while preparing for his next show to answer my questions about the popular series and to give our readers a sneak peek at the highlights of the upcoming October production.
What comes into your mind first – a specific year or a particular musical you want to feature?
Scott: It’s coming up with a combination of two different seasons that make a nice match and reveal how much change there has been from one to another – for example, before and after World War II. The upcoming October concert contrasts the British Invasion, with shows like The Phantom of the Opera, versus a few decades later, with American composers retaking Broadway.
How do you find the terrific casts for the concerts?
I have a unique advantage; my wife Barbara was on the Drama Desk Awards nominating committee for eighteen years and we attended around 300 shows per season, so I had the opportunity of seeing an extraordinary array of performers and knowing who’s good from the beginning. In my early shows, I cast people like Santino Fontana, Stephanie J. Block, and Jessie Mueller before they became famous. It’s exhilarating to find them early on and to put them on stage with the established stars of the day. When I first started these concerts, I wanted to ask Liz Callaway if she’d be interested in doing one, but since it’s such a close-knit theater community, before I even got to ask her, SHE asked me if she could do it, because a friend of hers was in the last show and he loved it. That’s how she became a big part of Broadway by the Year. If you treat people well and they have a great experience, they’ll tell their friends; and if they’re free, they’ll do it.
What do you love most about putting the concerts together?
The most fun part is the casting and matching the singers to the songs; I hope that’s one of my strengths. I like to surprise the audience by giving the performers something they don’t usually do, are not normally cast to sing, and the audience doesn’t expect, showing the extent of their talent and letting them shine. I also love to do the research on the seasons, finding out all the quirky things going on that year – it’s always fun to discover. And the most fun is seeing the audience react to the concept I had when it’s on stage. In the last show, I had Bill Irwin do “Send in the Clowns” – it was completely unexpected and exciting!
Is there one Broadway year you’ve presented that stands out as your favorite?
There are several. One was 1964; you can’t go wrong with that year – it was astounding! Sometimes it’s the experience of the concert that makes it a favorite. For 1947, we did “I’ll Go Home with Bonnie Jean” from Brigadoon to end the first act, then started the second act with it mid-sentence!
How has the series evolved over the years?
We started the original series with a cast of three, then six or seven, and then we brought dancers in, so it changed from a concert to a show – something that other concerts didn’t do. Dance became a feature of the series, just as it is in Broadway musicals, which evolved into the Broadway by the Year Dance Troupe. But there is no specific set formula; the years and the songs tell me what they need. The first installment of Broadway by the Season at the Kaufman had the dance troupe; the last one didn’t need it – so it really is the songs that dictate the format.
What are you enjoying most about your new home at Kaufman Music Center?
I love the intimacy of it. I’m used to seeing shows from the audience’s point of view, after everything I’ve attended with Barbara, so I always think about how they’ll see it. There are no bad seats in Merkin Hall, and I also like the Kaufman’s location near Lincoln Center, on the Upper West Side, but not SO Upper – it’s still near Midtown. And it’s a venue that was undiscovered by a lot of theatergoers because they present mostly classical concerts, so many new people are discovering it through us.
Do you know yet who’ll be taking the stage with you in October and which shows you’ll be presenting?
I’m in the process of casting it now, but I can tell you that we have Tony Award winner Adriane Lenox from Doubt and Ryan Knowles from The Lightning Thief. Act I will be the 1987/88 season, which will include Into the Woods and Carrie, so it will be fun, and Act II, from 2013/14, will have Beautiful and After Midnight, and many more.
What do you hope the audience, and the performers, take away from the concerts?
I always hope the performers have thrilled the audience and feel great about making THEM feel great. People tell me at each show, “This was the best one yet!” and “It was so much fun, I can’t wait till the next one!” I always want that to be true and hope this final concert at the Kaufman will be the topper for our first season there. The cost of the tickets is something else I hope they appreciate. Most shows in New York, with major singers and dancers in the cast, are very expensive; these are not. I have sponsors to help defray the cost and donors to make the prices reachable, so my hope is that people can come!
Many thanks, Scott, for giving us an inside look at your artistic process and a preview of the next installment of Broadway by the Season!
Broadway by the Season: 1987/88 & 2013/14 plays on Monday, October 30, 2023, 8 pm, at Kaufman Music Center, Merkin Hall, 129 West 67th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $60-75, plus fees), contact Siegel Entertainment.