Venue: The Trafalgar Studios
Date: 1 June
MD: Nigel Lilley
Director: Martin Connor
Host: Sally Ann Triplett
Opening number: "Sunday" (Sunday in the Park with George)
Winner: Adrian Grove (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Best New Song: "My Turn Soon" by Mark Allcorn (sung by Laura Kerr)
The Student Performer of the Year Finalists (in order of performance)
Derek McGhie (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama)
Sondheim: "Talent" (Bounce)
BNS: "Ballad Of Cariboo" by Jenny Giering & Beth Blatt
Emma Odell (London School of Musical Theatre)
Sondheim: "See What It Gets You" (Anyone Can Whistle)
BNS: "No More Tears" by Cathy Shostak & Anton Agalbato
Helen Turner (Guildford School of Acting)
Sondheim: "Sooner Or Later" (Dick Tracy)
BNS: "Dear Mr Rochester" by Susanna Pearse
Sondheim: "If You Can Find Me, I’m Here" (Evening Primrose)
BNS: "Becoming A Lady" by Shrubshall & Free
Amy Payne (Guildhall School of Music and Drama)
Sondheim: "Getting Married Today" (Company)
BNS: "Almost Love" by Conor Mitchell
Laura Kerr (Central School of Speech and Drama)
Sondheim: "The Ladies Who Lunch" (Company)
BNS: "My Turn Soon" by Mark Allcorn (winner)
Andrew Levesconte (Guildford School of Acting)
Sondheim: "Love, I Hear" (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)
BNS: "No Answer" by Tim Saward & Darren Deeks
Kate Batter (Birmingham School of Acting)
Sondheim: "Colour and Light" (Sunday in the Park with George)
BNS: "River Flowing" by Paul Moylan
Meredith Richard (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art)
Sondheim: "I Remember" (Evening Primrose)
BNS: "It’s A Wondrous Life With My Man" by Andrew Peggie & Athene Fielding
Adrian Grove (winner) (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Sondheim: "Marry Me A Little" (Company)
BNS: "A Kid from Nowhere" by Paul Graham Brown
Anna Clayton (Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama)
Sondheim: "The Miller's Son" (A Little Night Music)
BNS: "Once You Loved Me" by Marc Folan & John Farndon
Fiona O'Carroll (Guildford School of Acting)
Sondheim: "The Glamorous Life" (A Little Night Music)
BNS: "Deep Inside My Soul" by Deborah Frazer & John Woodruff
Student Performer of the Year: Edward Seckerson (Chair), Barry Burnett, Kim Criswell, Gareth Valentine
Stiles+Drewe Prize for Best New Song: George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
The Heats – A Judge’s View by Edward Seckerson
Fifty students, fifty Sondheim songs – all in the space of eight hours. That’s testing for even the most hardened Sondheim enthusiast.
For this Sondheim enthusiast, whose brief was to choose just 12 finalists from amongst them, “testing” doesn’t even begin to describe it. Excitement? Apprehension? Dread? How much stand-out talent was waiting just beyond the audition room door? Had it been a good year for our national drama schools and universities? Which songs would prove the most popular choices? Would they choose wisely? Should we be quoting odds on “Not While I’m Around”, “Being Alive”, or “Send in the Clowns” topping the most-often-performed charts?
Just as well we didn’t. I’m a sore loser. And the heats for the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2008 were nothing if not unpredictable.
When the first four people through the door could all make the final and none of them sing “Send in the Clowns” you begin to wonder if an hour or two is all it will take for you to turn into John Barrowman: “Outstanding! Outstanding! Outstanding!”
And a high percentage of the work was. Students went for less familiar songs: hell, we even had a song from Bounce. Some performances were a work in progress, some were fully fledged, some would stop a West End show right now. But most had sincerity and most had heart and most sounded like they loved the man’s work.
So 12 finalists – eight girls, four guys – are I know going to put on a cracking show on the afternoon of 1st June. My fellow judges can blame me for the choices but they won’t blame me for including a few risk-takers. I am always so encouraged to see and hear not just pretty voices and word-perfect delivery but youngsters prepared to go the extra distance, to inhabit a character and fill a lyric and dare with a vocal line. Several of these contestants have the potential to blow an audience away. It could be anybody’s final.
And, of course, there are the all-important “new” songs. Steve made that a condition of this annual competition going ahead in his name. New writing had to be a part of it. So which of the 12 new songs (courtesy of that invaluable organisation, Mercury Musical Developments) will grab our attention and walk off with the Stiles & Drewe new song award? We’ll know it when we hear it. And we’ll probably hear a grunt, too, which will be Sondheim in spirit offering some discreet vocal encouragement.
The Heats – An Observer’s View by Doug Pinchin (Richard Douglas Productions)
Even for the most ardent Sondheim aficionado, the prospect of having fifty Sondheim songs sung at you virtually non-stop in the space of eight hours could be somewhat daunting but this was the prospect faced by Edward Seckerson and Gordon Griffin when they agreed to judge the heats of the 2008 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition. As producers of the finals show at The Trafalgar Studios Richard Morris and I also sat in on the heats. Would the day be Sondheim heaven or Sondheim hell?
I do not think any of us knew what we were letting ourselves in for when we agreed to help with this year’s competition. Last year, the first, five performing arts submitted a total of ten students – so there were ten students in the final. Simple. This year it was quite a different matter. Twenty-seven colleges submitted fifty students who somehow had to be whittled down to a more manageable twelve for the final. This huge increase in interest was, of course, very encouraging but it also brought with it the additional complication of organising heats. Fifty students from all over the United Kingdom had to be brought together for one day at The Royal Academy of Music in London. This was no mean feat of organisation on the part of Lynne Chapman. In the end forty-nine students arrived, (one had to drop out due to illness), despite the transport horrors thrown at them by various Sunday engineering works on the Rail and underground networks.
On the day there was a slight feeling of dread that we might be subjected to 24 versions of “Giants in The Sky” and 25 “Being Alive”s as we had not been specific about what the students should perform other than it should be a Sondheim number. In the event we were pleasantly surprised by the variety of the material chosen. This also, once again, highlighted the sheer diversity of Mr. Sondheim’s output. Luckily there were very few duplications and even then not the expected ones. “Everyone Loves Louis” was a popular choice although if I’m being totally honest by the end of the day I didn’t love "Louis" as much as I once did!
Overall the standard of the students’ performances was very high with some “stand out” examples and some perhaps not quite as good as the majority. In some instances it was felt that the choice of material was a little strange, inappropriate even, given the age of the performer. For a couple of the competitors a spot on the wall about eight feet above the heads of the judges seemed to have a special fascination as they directed their performances to it rather than to their audience – the judges.
By the end of the day when Edward and Gordon retired to privately draw up their list of twelve finalists there was still an atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm in the room. This was a great testament to the talent that had been on view during the course of the day – a day that so easily could have turned out to be a marathon test of endurance for the judges. Richard and I did not envy them their job as almost all the competitors could have been finalists.
The heats now being over we are looking forward to working with the finalists today at The Trafalgar Studios and again with the eventual winner in September when they will be invited to take part in our show, Fly With The Stars, at The London Palladium. Congratulations on choosing to be here today. You will certainly be seeing musical theatre stars in the making.
Were the heats Sondheim heaven or Sondheim hell? Well, they were most certainly not hell. Whether or not they made it to the final twelve all the competitors deserve our congratulations – and remember, there’s always next year!