Following its triumphant post-pandemic return last year, the 15th annual Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year (SSSSPOTY) competition took place this afternoon at the theatre that bears the composers name, the Sondheim Theatre in London’s West End.
The ceremony itself, directed by Hannah Chissick, saw previous SSSSPOTY winner Alex Young host proceedings, while Musical Director Nigel Lilley, and Assistant Musical Director John Haslam accompanied the finalists as they each performed two songs.
As is the usual set up for the final of the competition, the twelve finalists, whittled down from some 250, take to the stage in groups of three. They each perform a chosen Stephen Sondheim song, before performing their second number, which is chosen from one of over 3000 available on the New UK Musicals website, a repository created in the midst of lockdown to showcase, and make available, the works of the UK’s most talented emerging musical writers.
Along with the finalists, there was an outstanding performance from the National Youth Musical Theatre Ensemble, led by Toby Owers, Madeleine Morgan and Thomas Oxley with ‘Our Time’ from Merrily We Roll Along. The trio would return during the judges deliberations to perform ‘Old Friends’ from the same musical.
It’s unsurprising that having made it to the final, the competition was fierce and each and every one of the performers were winners in their own right. Going home with a commendation, Pétur Svavarsson enchanted the audience with ‘I Wish I Could Forget You’ from Passion, while Harry Warburton’s commendation was equally well deserved for enigmatic performances of ‘Class’ from Saturday Night and ‘Infinity’ by Sarah Middleton and Josh Sneesby.
The insistence from Sondheim himself that new writers were included in the competition allows us not only the pleasure of hearing new musical theatre, but also gives the finalists a further opportunity to show just what they are capable of; Harry Lake was impressively engaging with a rendition of ‘My Day’ by Alex James Ellison. Also impressive with the second song was Isobel Twist with ‘Nobody’ by Stiles and Drewe, and Tom O’Kelly with an inspiring ‘Just Imagine’ by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green.
An early favourite in the competition was Emily Botnen giving a confidently comedic version of ‘Everybody Loves Louis’ from Sunday in the Park with George and a powerful ‘Watchin’ the Door’ by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green. Botnen would eventually take the runner up spot after the judges had deliberated.
Audience pleaser Milly Willows would go on to take first prize, presented by Julia McKenzie, after a fantastic and passionate performance of ‘Worst Pies in London’ from Sweeney Todd and a heartwrenching rendition of ‘A Story of My Own’ by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn.
What was clear from the 15th annual Stephen Sondheim Society Performer of the Year Award is that the future of musical theatre is in very good hands, not only is there a wealth of writing talent in this country, but each and every one of the finalists taking to the stage in this competition are future stars in the making.
More information about the Stephen Sondheim Student Performer of the Year Award (SSSSPOTY) can be found here.