Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition at the Royal Theatre Haymarket

The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year (SSSSPOTY) award returned on Sunday the 9thof June to test another twelve young performers with material from one of the most renowned composers and lyricists in theatre. This time at the Royal Theatre Haymarket, SSSSPOTY returned for another year of emotion, glitz, glamour and, most importantly, Sondheim.

A recap for those unfamiliar with SSSSPOTY: twelve students compete for a cash prize of £1,000. As part of the competition, they must perform one song from Sondheim’s repertoire and another, new piece from a host of new composers and lyricists. This second aspect of the show comes under the Stiles + Drewe Prize, the reward for winning which is a year-long mentoring scheme with renowned theatre writing partnership George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. 

There are two things that are special about SSSSPOTY. The first is watching these young actors all be given a chance to perform in front of friends and family: the atmosphere in the room at this competition is electric. The second is also the range of Sondheim’s work that the audience will hear over the course of the show. With Folliesand Company recently closed in London, one might feel as if we’ve had enough of Sondheim for the moment, yet with only one song performed from the former and none from the latter, the individual pieces came from a much wider variety of shows. 

From A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum to Hot Spot, Assassins to Road Show, there was plenty to whet your Sondheim whistle at SSSSPOTY. Especially good was Samantha Bingley’s ‘That Dirty Old Man’, Lily Kerhoas’ ‘No-one is Alone’, and Ahmed Hamad’s ‘Class’. The winner on the day, however, was Stuart Thompson’s ‘Franklin Shepard, Inc.’ a hilarious, lighting-fast song that was well performed.

Stuart Thompson, the winner of 2019’s SSSSPOTY.

As to the newer songs, there were some bizarre ones that were simultaneously brilliant. Vikki Sone and Katie’s Mulgrew’s ‘Marvin’, performed by Aliza Vakil, depicted the penguin Dora coping with being abandoned by her partner, whilst ‘The Scullion’s Candle’ by Carl Miller and Christopher Ash and performed by Cameron Burt humorously related a dalliance in the dark between a kitchen maid and her male colleague. Samantha Bingley also performed ‘Miracles’ with an unaffected simplicity: I look forward to hear more from the writers Daniel Foxx, Robyn Grant and Pippa Cleary soon. 

The winning song of the Stiles + Drewe Prize, however, was ‘Words/Amazing’ by Theo Jamieson and Sonali Bhattacharyya and performed by Niamh James.

Host Joanna Riding losing her mind at how talented all the performers were…

The gala was hosted by Joanna Riding, recently Sally in the National Theatre’s stunning production of Follies.Warm and beautifully northern, Riding was a brilliant host and reprised her version of ‘Losing My Mind’ to tumultuous applause. Other performances including the balcony scene by Andy Cozon and Gabriela Garcia from the returning of West Side Story in Manchester. Alex Cardall, last year’s SSSSPOTY winner, returned to reprise his ‘Buddy’s Blues’ and an excerpt from The Season, winner of last year’s Stiles + Drewe Prize, was also performed.

SSSSPOTY really is a celebration of old and new talent. With an audience whose appreciation for the songs and performers is quite palpable, there is no denying this is one of the more entertaining events in the annual theatrical diary. As Fredrika sings in A Little Night Music, ‘What a glamorous life!’ indeed.

Photograph credit: David Ovenden.  

Anthony Walker-Cook is a PhD candidate at UCL and is the Theatre editor for London Student. His interests include theatre adaptation, early modern drama, classical myths made modern and all things eighteenth century. For more information please contact: @AntWalker_Cook

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