Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year – Stiles + Drewe Prize – Noel Coward Theatre


Student Performer of the Year winner Izuka Hoyle (centre) and runners-up Shaq Taylor (left) and Oscar Conlon-Morrey. Pictures: David Ovenden

The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year/Stiles + Drewe Prize at the Noel Coward Theatre, London.

There’s no stopping those girls! Scots lass Izuka Hoyle made it four in a row for female contenders by winning the prestigious Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition by following Corrine Priest, Erin Doherty and Courtney Bowman.

It was a total about-turn after the guys had racked up a 6-1 lead since SSSSPOTY started in 2007. Only 2010 winner Alex Young, one of this year’s judges and joining the cast of Follies at the National in September, interrupted male domination, but now the girls are only one behind and on a roll.

Hoyle graduates from ArtsEd in September, is currently appearing in Working at Southwark Playhouse and is shortly to join an A-list cast in her first feature film.

As a past winner of the Young Scottish Musical Theatre Performer of the Year, Hoyle is no stranger to stepping up to the podium.

Here she wowed the judges with a beautiful interpretation of ‘Last Midnight’ from Into the Woods and was a popular winner of the £1,000 prize.

‘The Matchmaker’ (Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour) was her choice for the Best New Song competition that runs alongside the main event, but judges Stiles and Drewe awarded their prize to ‘Gerry and Me’. The latter was penned by former co-artistic director of London Theatre Workshop, Tom Lees, in harness with Claire Rivers, and performed with great feeling by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School’s Georgia Frost.

Tom Lees, in harness with Claire Rivers

Judges Anthony Drewe and Giles Terera (far left), Dan Gillespie Sells and George Stiles (far right) join winning writer Tom Lees, finalist Georgia Frost, and winning writer Claire Rivers

For me, Frost struck the perfect balance with one witty song ‘The Worst Pies in London’ and the heart-breaking ‘Gerry and Me’. She was unlucky not to win anything more than the cheque as singer of Best New Song.

The show was a double triumph for ArtsEd who provided the winner in Hoyle as well as the runner-up in Shaq Taylor whose booming bass demanded you pay attention.

He sang ‘Epiphany’, again from Sweeney, and backed it with the haunting ‘Apology to a Child’ from Tricked by Tom Slade.

The competition demanded one Sondheim from each of the 12 finalists (from an entry of 79) plus one from the Best Song section. The accent is on ‘performer’; it’s not just a singing contest, it requires plenty of acting as well.

The finalists got the message and the three-hour show finished appropriately with the hyperactive Welsh entry Joe Wiltshire Smith using practically every bit of the Noel Coward Theatre stage.

Some technical noises-off problem threatened to derail Verity Blyth’s 11 o’clock number ‘Losing My Mind’, but the Bristol Old Vic student battled through the unwanted diversion like an old hand, compere Clive Rowe rightly commending her bravery.

Blyth switched from classic Sondheim to the humour of ‘I’m a Dunce’ (Marc Folan and Carl Miller) that showed off her acting skills to advantage.

Nobody would have complained if third-placed Oscar Conlon-Morrey had been named the winner. He was a larger-than-life character everyone loved, and his treatment of Sweeney’s barber rival Pirelli’s ‘The Contest’ ticked every box. It was an absolute riot.


Stiles and Drewe and MTI Europe’s Bert Fink with winner of the Stiles and Drewe Mentorship award, Ben Glasstone. Picture: David Ovenden

As it was, SSSSPOTY patron Julia McKenzie came up with £250 for an unexpected third prize, remarking that it was well deserved as “this was the most talented collection of finalists in the 11-year history of the competition”, a view echoed by judges’ chairman Edward Seckerson.

Conlon-Morrey’s new song entry ‘Work to Do’ by Ben Glasstone, winner of the Stiles and Drewe Mentorship award for Reanimator, could scarcely have been done any better. He has tremendous star potential.

Filling in the gaps while the jury was deliberating were last year’s winner Courtney Bowman, Michael Rouse (from forthcoming Fringe musical Superhero), that brilliant double act Ferris and Milnes who raced through 33 Sondheim numbers in five minutes, and Rowe himself.

Earlier a veiled Janie Dee’s patter song from Company, ‘Getting Married Today’, added to the afternoon’s fun as this nationwide competition goes from strength to strength under the vigorous chairmanship of Craig Glenday.

Finally, a word for musical director Stephen Ridley who accompanied the finalists with distinction. He had a busy time, but not as busy as fellow pianist Malcolm Forbes-Peckham who played for all 79 who auditioned in the spring. Chris Hocking directed this belter of a show.

The other finalists, Tom Blackmore, Emma Rendell, Rob Peacock, Georgia Richardson, Katie Buchholz and Jack Whittle, were mostly terrific. Indeed te standard gets better year by year and even making it to the final these days is quite a feat.

The annual competition is co-produced by the Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments.

Jeremy Chapman


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