BWW Reviews: STEPHEN SONDHEIM SOCIETY STUDENT PERFORMER OF THE YEAR COMPETITION 2014, Garrick Theatre, May 18 2014
The West-End's Garrick Theatre played host to some of the UK's hottest upcoming musical talent at the eighth annual Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition. The final saw 12 drama students from colleges across the UK deliver top-class performances of some of the stage's trickiest songs in front of a packed and very excited crowd.
David Bedella, on a day off from gaining rave reviews at In The Heights, was an excellent choice of host: witty, sarcastic and charming, and able to take the edge of what could otherwise be an overly schmaltzy afternoon.
And what a great afternoon it was. When the prize was set up, Sondheim insisted that it also be used to showcase new writing - so alongside some great Sondheim numbers each performer sang a new song as part of the Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Prize (supported by the award-winning composer and lyricist - who provide half the prize).
Contestants sang in groups of three - first all three would sing a Sondheim song, and then we'd get the three new songs. Highlights of the first act included Luke Francis, about to graduate from East 15, who did an excellent interpretation of Ladies Who Lunch from Company. Stephanie Lyse (Royal Academy of Music) was rather impressive as the Baker's Wife performing Moments in the Woods and Callum McIntyre (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School) coped admirably with breaking his mike before he sang a single word to still put in a memorable version of Buddy's Blues from Follies.
The second act was just as impressive, with the London School of Musical Theatre's Corrine Priest doing a superb rendition of Don't Laugh from the little performed Hotspot. Jay Worley, representing the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, combined a powerful voice with an intelligent performance of Finishing the Hat from Sunday in the Park with George.
As we were reminded at the start, the prize is for performer of the year - it was crucial the contestants could act - the £1,000 first prize was deservedly awarded by Julia McKenzie to Corrine Priest, who has a fantastic career on the stage ahead of her. Callum Mcintyre was awarded runner-up.
The new writing competition was a mixed bag as it can be very hard to judge a new song out of the context of a show. Corrine Priest again impressed in her performance of the comic number 'Something for the Pain' by Eammon O'Dwyer - but it was Tamar Broadbent who was crowned winner having had two songs make the final 12. Accepting the prize she gave Jay Worley a much-deserved hug after he put in a frankly excellent performance of her song 'Library Boy' for which she won the prize along with 'The Procrastination Song'. She is definitely one to watch.
Fans of Sondheim and musical theatre should keep an eye out for the 2015 competition and a chance to see just what fantastic young talent there is.