REVIEW: The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the year

This was the 10th Anniversary of the annual Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition, (SSSSPOTY for short) and the 9th year for the annual Stiles + Drewe (SAD) Prize for best new song, as well as the first year for their new MTI Membership Award supported by Music Theatre International. It’s a long title and the afternoon itself was long too, coming in at just under 3 hours……however it was an incredibly delightful three hours.

Each of the the 12 finalists sang in groups of 3, firstly their Sondheim solo each then a solo from one of the 12 shows shortlisted for the Stiles + Drewe best song and MTI Mentorship award.
Kudos to each of the finalists, as Julia McKenzie succinctly put, ‘there is nothing harder than standing in a black box in a white light’ and each of these students rose to the occasion admirably.

Highlights for me were Tabitha Tingey who sang ‘Colour and Light’ from Sunday in the Park with George and also runner up Eleanor Jackson, who sang ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ from the same. Both of these performers not only captured the essence of these songs but were fabulous to listen to. Courtney Bowman took the title with ‘Me and my Town’ from Anyone Can Whistle as well as a very funny performance of ‘The Driving Lesson’ by Tim Connor. It was Tim Connor that won best new song with ‘Back to School’ a hilarious primary school patter number, pitched from the harassed teachers perspective, sung by Ashley Reyes.

The MTI Mentorship Award went to Darren Clarke and Rhys Jennings for ‘My Wicker Man’ from The Wicker Husband a beautiful song about a young girls dream for a husband of her own soaringly sung by Lauren Drew.

The afternoon was expertly hosted by Julian Ovenden and he also treated us to a few musical numbers himself including ‘Being Alive’ from Company and also ‘Move On’ from Sunday in the Park with George dueting with the incomparable Sophie-Louise Dann. Also providing entertainment were former SSSSPOTY winners singing ‘Hey Old Friends’ from Merrily We Roll Along and Natasha Cottrial who treated us to a fabulous performance of ‘Do You Want a Baby, Baby?’ from Dougal Irvine’s The Buskers Opera.

The opportunity to hear Sondheim sung by bright new talent, coupled with brand new musical theatre songs is a real treat. Its just wonderful that new musical theatre and its writers are being given the opportunity to have their music heard. Long as it was, long may SSSSPOTY and SAD continue!

Reviewed by Byron Butler
Photo: David Ovenden