American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim is one of the most celebrated creative minds in musical theatre due to his many and immeasurable contributions to the industry. He’s been in this business for over fifty years now, and in that time, he has given the fans such classic shows as Follies, Sweeney Todd, Company, Into The Woods and Sweeney Todd, as well as having written the lyrics for West Side Story, and been recognised for this with numerous theatrical awards and the special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. His timeless work continues to bring joy and inspiration to the world, and led to the founding of The Stephen Sondheim Society.
A charitable trust which names the likes of Sir Cameron Mackintosh, Jenna Russell, Maria Friedman and Stephen Sondheim himself among its Patrons, the Society promotes the work of Sondheim in the UK and around the world with the aim to encourage a far-reaching appreciation of his work. One way in which they do this is through the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition, which takes place on an annual basis and showcases a selection of students from various performing arts schools around the UK, all of whom get their moment in the spotlight to perform a Sondheim song in the hope of being named the winner of that year’s contest.
The competition has grown in renown since it first appeared on the scene and is now in its eighth year. West End actor David Bedella hosted the finals of the 2014 event and delivered memorable performances of both Sondheim and Stiles and Drewe numbers, while West End leading lady Caroline Sheen also took to the stage to perform ‘Wait A Bit’ from Just So. The event took place last weekend (Sunday 18th May 2014) at the Garrick Theatre, and the recipient of this year’s award was 20 year old Corrine Priest from the London School of Musical Theatre (LSMT). Actress and patron of the Stephen Sondheim Society, Julia McKenzie, presented the award to the LSMT student, whose performance of ‘Don’t Laugh’ from the musical Hot Spot saw her chosen as the 2014 winner over the eleven other finalists in the competition: Stephanie Lyse (Royal Academy of Music), Nicola Martinus-Smith (CPA Studios), Sam O’Hanlon (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts), Katie Shearman (ArtsEd), Tyler Smith (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), Jay Worley (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama), Monique Young (ArtsEd), Hugo Cattan (Guildford School of Acting), Luke Francis (East 15 Acting School, University of Essex), Hayley Hampson (Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts) and Callum McIntyre (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School), the latter of whom secured his place as runner-up with his performance of ‘Buddie’s Blues’ from Follies.
Choreographer and director Jonathan Butterell, who has worked both in the West End and on Broadway, was present to judge the event, alongside musical director Nigel Lilley, director David Lan and writer Edward Seckerson.
A few other well-known names from the industry were also in attendance to judge the twelve finalists in the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song prize which is held in conjunction with the Performer of the Year competition and awarded to writers of new musical theatre songs. Composing duo George Stiles and Antony Drewe sat on the judging panel alongside Broadway composers Scott Alan and Andrew Lippa, and it was 26-year old Tamar Broadbent who capitalised on the unique opportunity to win the 2014 award with the two songs she entered in the contest: ‘The Procrastination Song’ (performed by Luke Francis) and ‘Library Boy’ (performed by Jay Worley).
Anything which offers a platform to share new work or display new stars is a wonderful thing indeed, and this annual competition showcases both the performers and the writers who may very well one day be the names on everyone’s lips. The talented collection of people who made it to the finals grabbed the chance to show what they can do with both hands. Perhaps they’ll one day be creating the shows or performing in them, but for today we were introduced to the stars of tomorrow and given the rare opportunity to have a sneak peek at some of the faces who just may be the future of musical theatre.
By Julie Robinson @missjulie25
Tuesday 20th May 2014