Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and Stiles + Drewe Prize – finalists revealed

SSSSPOTY2017baThe 12 students who will perform at this year’s West End gala for the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and the 10th anniversary of The Stiles + Drewe Prize have been announced.

Chosen from performing arts schools across the country the finalists are: Tom Blackmore, Verity Blyth, Katie Buchholz, Oscar Conlon-Morrey, Georgia Frost, Izuka Hoyle, Rob Peacock, Emma Rendell, Georgia Richardson, Shaq Taylor, Jack Whittle and Joe Wiltshire Smith.

Hosted by Olivier Award winner Clive Rowe, and featuring a special performance by fellow Olivier Award winner and guest judge Janie Dee, the gala will be staged at the Noёl Coward Theatre on Sunday 11 June.

Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson will return to chair the Student Performer judges and Sondheim favourite Julia McKenzie will once again present the prize.

Under the direction of Chris Hocking and with musical direction by Stephen Ridley, the gala will feature comedy double act Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes who will be reprising their medley ’33 Sondheim Numbers in 5 Minutes’.

The annual competition, co-produced by the Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments, features the selected students performing a classic song by Stephen Sondheim and a new musical theatre song, written by members of Mercury Musical Developments (MMD).

With a first prize of £1,000, the winning student performer will be chosen by a panel that includes Dee, director Rachel Kavanaugh and 2010 winner Alex Young.

The Stiles + Drewe Prize supports and develops new musical theatre writing via its two distinct arms. Recognising an outstanding song from a new musical, the winner of Best New Song receives £1,000 to put towards developing their work.

Judging the Best New Song entries with Stiles and Drewe will be songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells (Everyone’s Talking About Jamie) and actor Giles Terera (soon to star as Aaron Burr in Hamilton).

Now in its second year, Stiles and Drewe’s Mentorship Award will also be a key part of the gala. Supported by Music Theatre International (Europe), the award offers a new musical and its writers mentorship over a 12-month period, culminating in an industry showcase. The inaugural winner of the Mentorship Award, The Wicker Husband recently had its presentation at The Other Palace.

Commenting on the students who will compete at the event, the Stephen Sondheim Society Chairman Craig Glenday said today: “This annual event has become a highlight in the musical theatre calendar, showcasing the very best students from the UK’s top drama and musical theatre schools.

“These talented young men and women are the stars of the future, and we’re excited to give them this opportunity to perform on a West End stage – most of them for the first time. Sondheim himself talks about teaching as a sacred profession, and the Stephen Sondheim Society is committed to supporting and encouraging students in all aspects of musical theatre. Good luck to all 12!”

The 12 performer finalists are:

  • Tom Blackmore (London College of Music)
  • Verity Blyth (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
  • Katie Buchholz (RADA)
  • Oscar Conlon-Morrey (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
  • Georgia Frost (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
  • Izuka Hoyle (ArtsEd)
  • Rob Peacock (London School of Musical Theatre)
  • Emma Rendell (LAMDA)
  • Georgia Richardson (Italia Conti Academy Of Theatre Arts)
  • Shaq Taylor (ArtsEd)
  • Jack Whittle (GSA, University of Surrey)
  • Joe Wiltshire Smith (RWCMD)

 The full list of the 12 Best New Song finalists are:

  • Chris Ash and Carl Miller (‘Underneath’)
  • Jim Barne and Kit Buchan (‘What’ll It Be?’)
  • Chris Dickins and Tom Wright (‘My Island’)
  • Matt Finch and Melanie Lawman (‘Filament’)
  • Marc Folan and Carl Miller (‘I’m a Dunce’)
  • Ben Glasstone (‘Work to Do’)
  • Tom Lees and Claire Rivers (‘Gerry and Me’)
  • Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour (‘The Matchmaker’)
  • Graham Mercer (‘My Favourite Guy’)
  • Youn Young Park and Susannah Pearse (‘Doesn’t Mean He’ll Love Me’)
  • Tom Slade (‘Apology to a Child’)
  • Benjamin Till (‘Brass’)

Previous winners of the Stiles and Drewe Prize for Best New Song include Tamar Broadbent who took her one-woman show All By My Selfie to the Adelaide Fringe. The 2015 winners Richy Hughes and Joseph Finlay are receiving a full production of their musical The Superhero at the Southwark Playhouse. Their winning song ‘Don’t Look Down’ will be performed at the gala. Past finalists of the Student Performer Prize have included Hollywood star Taron Egerton and Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo.

 Angela Thomas


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