Sondheim Society & Mercury Musicals Developments Student Performer of the Year and Stiles and Drewe Prize

An afternoon listening to some of the most promising young graduates from an array of drama schools, singing Sondheim and songs written by new composers hosted by Clive Rowe with a special performance by the phenomenal Janie Dee. What’s not to like?

I think what set my personal favourites apart, was the ease at which they were able hold a West End Stage. While, understandably, performing in the Noel Coward Theatre in front of esteemed guests – as well as what seemed to be just a swarm of drama school graduates – is undoubtedly nerve racking, some stood as talented students and some stood as talented professionals. This distinction couldn’t be denied and while many of the 12 had lovely voices, stage presence is what set them apart.

Katie Buchholz‘s “Liaisons” from A Little Night Music was the perfect example of this. For someone so young playing an older role is a challenge enough, but the RADA graduate commands the stage effortlessly, her poise and confidence oozing from her. A mark of a true seasoned performer.

Oscar Conlon-Morley‘s “The Contest” from Sweeney Todd set him apart from the rest. The Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts graduate’s voice is powerful and rich and he balances comedy and storytelling perfectly, with incredible ease you quickly forget he has only just graduated. This was followed by his version of “Work To Do” by Ben Glasstone which was still comic and yet had a contrasting calmness. He brings the best out of the song and when Glasstone puts the show on he’d be silly to not snatch Conlon-Morrey up.

Another stand out was Joseph Wiltshire-Smith. The Royal Welsh Collage of Music and Drama graduate was yet another who looked completely comfortable on stage. His “Buddy’s Blues” from Follies was comedic and yet avoided being too pantomime. He suits Sondheim’s comedy style very well, and I do not doubt we will see Wiltshire-Smith perform Sondheim’s work again.

However there must be a winner. Arts Educational‘s Izuka Hoyle‘s “Last Midnight” from Into The Woods and interpretation of Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour’s very impressively written “The Matchmaker” was flawless. I keep mentioning the ability to look comfortable on stage, and it is as if Hoyle has been on that stage her whole life. The ease and grace in which she executed both songs were breathtaking and there is no question that she is going to become a household name very soon. Also from Arts Educational was runner up, Shaq Taylor who sung “Epiphany” from Sweeney Todd and “Apology To A Child” by Tom Slade and third place was given to the previously mentioned Oscar Conlon-Morrey.

The other winners were Ben Glasstone for the Stiles and Drewe Mentorship Award for Reanimator as well as Tom Lees and Claire Rivers for the Stiles and Drewe best new song, “Gerry and Me”, a clear winner and definitely a writing team to look out for.

Once again, the Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments threw a thoroughly entertaining afternoon filled to the brim with talent I am sure we will be hearing from very soon.

Review by Kara Taylor Alberts (@karaalberts)
Photo: David Ovenden