In its 15th anniversary, the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year (SSSSPOTY) returns to the Sondheim Theatre where 12 finalists and 2 reserves from drama schools around the country compete for £1000 and the opportunity to headline their own cabaret filled with Stephen Sondheim’s songs.
Most of the finalists managed to perform contrasting songs in either emotion, genre musicality, showcasing their ability to tackle a broad range of musical theatre styles.
Alex Young, who herself has performed in many of Sondheim’s musicals from Young Sally in National Theatre’s Follies to Cora Hoover Hooper in Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse, hosted the final in a sparkling and humorous manner, having previously won the competition in 2010 with her rendition of Sunday in the Park with George from the musical of the same name, making her the first former winner to host. The final was directed by Hannah Chissick and the competitors were accompanied by Nigel Lilley. Edward Seckerson chaired the judging panel alongside Nicola Hughes, Michael Jibson and Jenna Russell.
Each finalist was required to sing a song from Sondheim’s catalogue and a new song chosen by them from the selection at NEW UK MUSICALS, and due to Sondheim's own support and promotion of new musicals and writing, making it a requirement of the competition that for every one of his songs sung, there must be a new one performed.
The twelve finalists from 250 initial video submissions and 80 that qualified for in-person auditions were; Sara Bartos from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland performed Stay With Me from Into the Woods and Stand by Dominic Powell; Emily Botnen from the Royal Academy of Music sang Everybody Loves Louis from Sunday in the Park with George and Watchin’ the Door by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green; Lucy Carter from the Royal Academy of Music sang I Remember from Evening Primrose and Has Anybody Seen Man Ray? by Jason Carr; Harry Lake from the Guildford School of Acting performed If You Can Find Me, I’m Here from Evening Primrose and My Day by Alex James Ellison; Josh Lewindon from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama performed Multitudes of Amy, a song that was cut from Company and They Don’t Make Glass Slippers by George Stiles and ANthony Drewe; Ritesh Manugula also from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama performed another cut song, this time from Assassins called Flag Song and I’ll Write a Song For You by Alex James Ellison; Tom O’Kelly from the Royal Academy of Music performed the final song of the evening from Evening Primrose called Take Me To The World and Just Imagine by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green; Emily Ridge from the Leeds Conservatoire performed the song Broadway Baby from Follies and That Rainy Day by Craig Adams; Pétur Svavarsson from the Royal Academy of Music performed I Wish I Could Forget You from Passion and Burst Through Life by Dominic Powell; Isobel Twist from Bristol Old Vic Theatre School sang another song from Follies called Losing My Mind and Nobody by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe; Harry Warburton from the Guildford School of Acting performed Class from Saturday Night and Infinity by Sarah Middleton and Josh Sneesby; last but not least, Milly Willows from Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts performed Worst Pies in London from Sweeney Todd and A Story of My Own by Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn.
All performances were to an exceptionally high standard, in line with the competition's track record for identifying young talent Most of the finalists managed to perform contrasting songs in either emotion, genre musicality, showcasing their ability to tackle a broad range of musical theatre styles. All leaned in the respective atmospheres of their songs, occasionally bringing props and costume, really letting go on their second song from a new musical. Every finalist gave a performance truly worthy of Sondheim's music.
As the judges were deliberating, we were treated to a number of performances by Alex Young guests. With a cameo from George Kemp, Alex Young reprised her winning performance of Sunday in the Park With George, before Desmonda Cathabel's - the 2022 winner of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year- performance of The Miller’s Son from A Little Night of Music. As well as a showcase from the National Youth Musical Theatre Ensemble’s upcoming production of Merrily We Roll Along of Our Time at the start of the second half, Toby Owers, Madeleine Morgan and Thomas Oxley performed Old Friends. And finally, Alex Young and Ellie Nunn performed a song song that was from Anyone Can Whistle called There’s Always a Woman.
After congratulating all of the finalists for their performances, and due the high standard of this year's group the judges commended Pétur Svavarrson and Harry Warbuton for their performances, awarded the runner up prize of £500 to Emily Botnen before Julia McKenzie announced Milly Willows as the winner of the competition. Willows had previously performed as Ms Lovett in Italia Conti's production of Sweeney Todd, and from her performance it was very clear that the character was as familiar as slipping on a second skin.