Potentially the biggest date in the theatre calendar for up and coming West End performers and writers, the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of The Year (or SSSSPOTY if you’re searching for it on twitter) and Stiles+Drewe Prize (in association with the Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments) descended on the Savoy Theatre for an afternoon of songs from 12 of the top theatre school members in the UK. Ranging from Arts Ed, GSA, The Hammond, RADA, Mountview, LAMDA, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Royal Academy of Music.
The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer Of The Year is in its 12th year, with the first prize receiving £1,000, second place receiving £500, and a little bonus of £350 was given to the third place performer as a bonus on the night. The Stiles+Drewe Best New Song prize was also awarded for the 11th time, with a £150 prize given to the singer of the best new song (which was then rounded up to £200 by Tracie Bennett). The MTI Stiles & Drewe Mentorship Award was a prize of one year working with Stiles & Drewe themselves to create a brand new musical in full, alongside mentorship from other individuals should the production require it.
Hosted by Tracie Bennett (currently featuring in Ruthless, and I’d personally really like her to host every event from now until forever because her anecdotes were the bomb), 12 performers took to the stage to sing two songs – a Sondheim classic from the likes of Into The Woods, Follies, Company and Merrily We Roll Along and a brand new song from new writers. Combining the well-known favourites with a new piece of writing allowed the actors to perform to an array of scenarios.
The afternoon opened with all twelve competitors singing Make The Most Of Your Music (Follies, original London production) before launching into the competition. My personal highlights included both of Alex Cardall’s songs – Buddy’s Blues (Follies) and You & Me (original song by Adam Wachter) – Dónal Finn’s The Flag Song (Assassins) and Thomas Grant’s Franklin Shepard, Inc. (Merrily We Roll Along). The full set list can be found just below.
After the first six competitors had performed their songs, Di Botcher performed Broadway Baby which she will be revisiting in the 2019 revival of Follies. Once all 12 performers had been given their shot at the prize, the judges retired for deliberation and we were treated to a further five performances. The first three were songs from the shortlist for the MTI Stiles+Drewe Mentorship Award as performed by current theatre stars, and second two came from last year’s runner up Oscar Conlan-Morrey (The Toxic Avenger) and last year’s winner Izuka Hoyle, singing their Sondheim classics from the previous competition.#
Set List (all music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim unless otherwise stated)
Ensemble Make The Most of Your Music – Follies (original London production)
Will Carey Giants In The Sky – Into The Woods
Alex Cardall Buddy’s Blues – Follies
Emily Beresford Don’t Laugh – Hot Shots (music by Mary Rodgers & Stephen Sondheim; lyrics by Sondheim & Martin Charnin)
Will Carey Everything Will Be Alright (China Doll, Leah Fogo, Roxanne Lamendola & Scott Stait)
Alex Cardall You And Me (Adam Wachter)
Emily Beresford Better Kind Of Me (Rachel Bellman & Josh Bird)
Sabi Perez Could I Leave You – Follies
James Stirling Hello Little Girl – Into The Woods
Dónal Finn The Flag Song – Assassins
Sabig Perez Stars (Sara Eker & Giles Fernando)
James Stirling If I Had Wings (Jim Barne & Kit Buchan)
Dónal Finn Famous (Bomi Lee & Jason Young)
Di Botcher Broadway Baby – Follies *
Bonnie Badoo The Ladies Who Lunch – Company
Shelby Flannery I wish I Could Forget You – Passion
Elliott Wooster Love, I Hear – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum
Bonnie Badoo Down The Stairs (Adam Wachter)
Shelby Flannery Love (Rosabella Gregory)
Elliott Wooster Somewhere In Between (Nick Butcher)
Pedro Leandro Being Alive – Company
Amara Okereke Not A Day Goes By – Merrily We Roll Along
Thomas Grant Franklin Shepard, Inc. – Merrily We Roll Along
Pedro Leandro Set The Alarm For Six (Bella Barlow & A.C. Smith)
Amara Okereke Shone With The Sun (Benjamin Till, Nathan Taylor & Sir Arnold Wesker)
Thomas Grant As Long As I Have Music (Rob Eyles & Robert Gould)
Isabella Pappas & Bradley Riches (Let Out) The Thunder I You – Terror At The Sweet Shop (Gavin Brock & Nichola Rivers) *
Thomas Sutcliffe & Kayleigh McKnight What Beauty Is – Mill On The Floss (Thomas Sutcliffe & Lydia Grant) *
Tori Allen-Martin He Doesn’t Exist – The Season (Jim Barne & Kit Buchan) *
Oscar Conlan-Morrey The Contest – Sweeney Todd *
Izuka Hoyla Last Midnight – Into The Woods *
* Performances with an asterix beside them were not performed by a competitor
I do not envy the judges at all because there is no way that I’d have wanted to pick a winner, but they whittled it down eventually. Alex Cardell was crowned winner of the event (with James Stirling finding himself as this year’s runner up and Shelby Flannery coming third), and it was clear that Adam Wachter was going to win the writing prize the second that Cardell began the heartwrenching ballad Wachter had written. The mentor prize was awarded to Jim Barne & Kit Buchan, and I can’t wait to see how The Season develops over the coming year after Tori Allen-Martin (H.R.Haitch) did a spectacular job singing our sneak peek at the show!
A huge congratulations to all who took part in this year’s Stephen Sondheim Student Performer of the Year and Stiles+Drewe Prize; I’m so excited to see where you all are in a year’s time. Bravo!