Julian Ovenden to host Sondheim Society student award gala

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Julian Ovenden hosts the Stephen Sondheim Student Performer of the Year and Stiles & Drewe Prize gala night

Stage and screen actor Julian Ovenden will host a special event to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and the Stiles & Drewe Prize.

The Downton Abbey actor, who has just released his latest album as a solo singer, will take to the stage to present the 2016 competition gala show at London’s Novello Theatre on 15 May.

Under the direction of Chris Hocking and with musical direction by Mark Warman, the 12 finalists shortlisted from the 80 musical theatre students who auditioned for this year’s award, will sing a selection of Sondheim classics and new musical theatre writing. The event will also include a preview of a song from one of the three new Stiles and Drewe musicals due to premiere this year.

An annual competition produced by The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments, the Student Performer of the Year Award includes a £1,000 cash prize.

The judging panel, which this year includes Sondheim Society patron Julia McKenzie, Don Black, Jason Carr, Anne Reid, Sophie-Louise Dann and chair Edward Seckerson, will choose the award winner from students on any one of the many musical theatre courses running across the UK.

Craig Glenday, the chairman of the Stephen Sondheim Society said: “The 12 finalists represent the very best of UK music and drama schools, so it’s going to be a wonderful afternoon of Sondheim classics, mixed in with some of the best new writing for the stage.

“Stephen Sondheim himself insisted that the event should showcase not only emerging student talent but also new musical theatre writing, so we’re also proud to share the day with the finalists from the Stiles & Drewe Prize.”

The Stiles & Drewe Prize supports and develops new musical theatre writing by recognizing an outstanding song from a new musical. The winner of Best New Song also receives a prize of £1,000 to use to help develop their work.

With the support of Music Theatre International, this year Stiles and Drewe are launching the MTI Mentorship Award, which will select one new musical and its writers to receive mentorship over a 12-month period culminating in an industry showcase.

The songwriting duo, whose own early career was given a boost when they won the first Vivian Ellis Prize in 1985 for their musical Just So, said: “We are delighted that for the ninth year we will be recognising an outstanding song from a new musical. We are also proud to expand the Stiles & Drewe Prize in 2016 to include our new Mentorship Award, generally supported by Music Theatre International.”

This year’s 12 finalist student performers are: Abigail Fitzgerald (Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts); Adam Small (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts); Ashley Reyes (LAMDA); Callum McGuire (Oxford School of Drama); Courtney Bowman (GSA University of Surrey); Dafydd Gape (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama); Edward Laurenson (Guildhall School of Music and Drama); Eleanor Jackson (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School); Emily Day (Performance Preparation Academy); Kirsty Ingram (Arts Educational Schools); Lauren Drew ( Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts); and Tabitha Tingey (The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland).

Angela Thomas

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