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Finalists Announced for Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and Stiles + Drewe Prize Gala


The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments today announce the 12 finalists for the annual West End Gala for The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and The Stiles + Drewe Prize.

The 12 finalists from performing arts schools around the country have been selected to perform at the 2017 competition being staged at the Noel Coward Theatre on Sunday 11 June at 3pm, hosted by Olivier Award winner Clive Rowe.

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. Please see below for details of the representing schools.

The gala will also include a special performance by Olivier Award winner and guest judge Janie Dee - soon to be seen as Phyllis in Follies at the National Theatre and writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson returns to Chair the Student Performer judges as does legendary Sondheim interpreter Julia McKenzie to present the prize.

This year the annual gala will again be directed by Chris Hocking, with musical direction by Stephen Ridley and will also feature comedy double act Dominic Ferris and Martin Milnes who will be reprising their medley '33 Sondheim Numbers in 5 Minutes'.

This annual competition, co-produced by The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments, sees twelve of the top student performers from musical theatre and drama schools across the UK each perform a classic song by Stephen Sondheim and a new musical theatre song, written by members of Mercury Musical Developments.

The first prize is £1,000. In addition to Janie Dee, the student performer judging panel includes Director Rachel Kavanaugh (Half a Sixpence and The Wind in the Willows), Conductor & Musical Supervisor Simon Lee (The Sound of Music, Tell Me On A Sunday) and Alex Young (SSSSPOTY 2010 winner - recently seen as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel at ENO).

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 finalists with Stiles and Drewe will be songwriter Dan Gillespie Sells (The Feeling & Everyone's Talking About Jamie) and actor Giles Terera (soon to star as Aaron Burr in Hamilton).

In addition, Stiles and Drewe's Mentorship Award - now in its second year - will also be a key part of the Gala and is generously supported by Music Theatre International (Europe). One new musical and its writers will be selected to receive 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.

Olivier Award-winning writing duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe said today, "Writing musicals is a labour of love, and can be a long and hard process. It is vital that writers have support at different stages in the development of their work, which is why our Prize recognises both an outstanding song and a first full draft of a new musical. As in previous years, this Gala offers a chance for writers to showcase their work and for us as an industry to highlight and embrace the breadth and depth of the musical theatre writing talent out there. We think new British musical theatre writing is in an inspiring and exciting place."

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 twelve!

Executive Director of MMD Victoria Saxton said: "There are precious few opportunities in the UK to champion and nurture new musical theatre writing. We have worked closely with Stiles and Drewe over the past ten years to produce this annual event to ensure that new work can be seen and heard. The gala is a fabulous showcase opportunity for 12 MMD writers. This year we received over 120 applications for the Best New Song prize. There is talent out there - it just needs a platform. The Best New Song winners from 2015, Richy Hughes and Joseph Finlay, are now receiving a full production of the show from which their winning song featured. Showcasing events make sure new work is seen by the right people. We need initiatives like the Stiles and Drewe Prize to ensure the UK remains a source of excellent new musical theatre."

Clive Rowe's numerous theatre credits include The Light Princess, Carousel (Olivier Nomination), Fuente Ovejuna, Caroline or Change, The Villains Opera, Money, Candide, Peter Pan, Guys and Dolls (Olivier Award), Trackers (all National Theatre); Kiss Me Kate (Chichester & Old Vic Theatre); The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios); The Ladykillers, The Fantasticks, Chicago, As You Like It (all West End); Company (Donmar Warehouse); Zenobia, Measure for Measure and Twelfth Night (all RSC). For television credits include The Story of Tracy Beaker, The Evermoor Chronicles and So Awkward; and for film, Beauty and The Beast, Manderlay and Crime Strike.

Please see below for the 12 performer finalists:

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)

Please see below for the full list of the 12 Best New Song finalists:

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.


West End Gala for The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year
and The Stiles + Drewe Prize

Sunday 11 June 2017, 3pm
Running time: 2hr 30 mins including interval

At Noel Coward Theatre
St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU

Ticket prices: £17.25 - £27.25
Box Office: 0844 482 5140

The Stephen Sondheim Society is a registered charity that studies, appreciates and celebrates the works of Stephen Sondheim through educational events, academic research and theatre visits.

Mercury Musical Developments (MMD) is a registered charity and membership organisation dedicated to developing new musical theatre writing. MMD is part of the Arts Council England national portfolio.

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