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Phil Willmott

Meet the musical theatre stars of tomorrow

Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year If you're interested in spotting the hot new musical theatre writers and performers you won't want to miss the forthcoming gala at the Noel Coward Theatre which includes performances from the nominees for The Stephen Sondheim Society's student performer of the year. The afternoon includes the announcement of the winner, both of this and a song writing prize set up by Styles and Drewe. You can hear a selection of the competing songs too.

The 2017 competition is being staged at the Noёl Coward Theatre on Sunday 11 June at 3pm.

It'll be hosted by Clive Rowe, who we haven't seen enough of in recent years. He's previously been a much acclaimed pantomime performer and anyone who caught the last revival of the legendary Richard Eyre production of Guys and Dolls, which originated at the National Theatre, will recall his show stealing performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and the way he'd bring the house down at every performances with his show stopping rendition of Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat. He should be able to give the young singing competitors some great advice as should Janie Dee, who's about to star in Sondheim's Follies, once again at the National Theatre.

The other Sondheim expert on hand will be Julia Mckenzie who over the years has given legendary performances in his musicals Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods and Follies. She'll present the prize to the top student interpreter of the master musical theatre writer's work.

The first prize is £1,000 and the other judges are Director Rachel Kavanaugh (Half a Sixpence and The Wind in the Willows) and Alex Young (SSSSPOTY 2010 winner - recently seen as Carrie Pipperidge in Carousel at ENO).

The brilliant Chris Hocking will direct the singing competition side of things. He should know a thing or two about getting the best out of students as he's principal of the celebrated Arts Educational School, one of the UK's premiere training grounds for musical theatre.

Turning to the songwriting prize bit of the event we're told "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 entries 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).

"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".

Olivier Award-winning writing duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe said “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 12 Best New Song finalists are:
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)

The 12 performer finalists will be announced shortly.