BWW Reviews: THE S&S AWARD GALA, St James Theatre, November 23 2014
The S&S Award is given to the best new unproduced musical of the year, as judged by a panel of industry luminaries. The prize for the winning entry is as follows: a week's development retreat to work on the material with a professional cast, musical director and director, without the pressure of a presentation; the developmental week is followed at a later date by an Industry Showcase in central London; and the winning writers are formally presented with the Award at The S&S Award Gala held annually at London's St James Theatre.
And a good thing it is too. Musicals are damn difficult things to put on - damned expensive too - so a helping hand along the way is welcome and, if something can carve its niche between the megashows in the West End, the touring jukebox extravaganzas and the fringe revivals, we should all rejoice. The Gala Awards Show, introduced by a devilshly charismatic David Bedella, celebrated two Highly Commendeds and the Winner with thirty minute excerpts from their shows, sung, from books, by West End stars.
So how did they measure up?
Rebecca Applin and Susannah Pearse wrote Jabberwocky for 35 performers, developing it initally with Youth Music Theatre UK. It follows two young women, separated by over a century, who join forces to defeat the terrifying Jabberwock who lives behind the mirror. Inspired, of course, by Lewis Carroll's Alice Through The Looking Glass, with a bit of Heathers / Mean Girls thrown in, this looked a piece that will appeal to a younger audience with fine female characters, who are both brave and funny.
The other Highly Commended also had a time-travelling theme, but took an altogether different approach to musical theatre. Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green's Van Winkle - A Folk Musical began life as a postgraduate dissertation at Goldsmiths College, but has morphed into an extraordinary piece performed by actor-musicians using an array of familiar and less familiar instruments to evoke a Dutch settlement in pre-revolution North America. This piece brimmed with invention and originality (though obviously inspired by a classic tale), the music telling the tale in chords as much as the lyrics did in words. It won't be easy to bring it to the stage, but if it makes it - see it!
Tim Gilvin (whom I last saw on the playbill of the excellent Gap Year) scooped the trophy - presented by Nigel Harman - for Stay Awake, Jake, brilliantly performed by Norman Bowman. Jake is driving from London to Carlisle in an attempt to repair his broken relationship with Sophie, his now ex-girlfriend. On the way, we learn more about Jake and why Sophie might be right after all... The music ebbs and flows with Jake's memories of his relationship's ebbs and flows - this is heart on the sleeve stuff - but I confess that I wasn't completely engaged by Jake, who seemed overly-determined by his emotions. Maybe the fully worked-up piece will round out Jake and his fate might then matter more to me.
The London Stage remains a treasure trove for fans of musical theatre - and the S&S Award can only help burnish its worldwide reputation. I look forward to seeing next year's winners at the Gala and this year's winners in production.