SSSSPOTY 2022 - Meet the Finalists

From 350 video auditions down to the final 12 (plus three reserves)... Here, in alphabetical order by surname, we introduce you to the 2022 SSSSPOTY selection. This group represents the cream of the UK's musical theatre students, so you are guaranteed a wonderful evening of entertainment. To book tickets to see these remarkable students live on the Sondheim stage, click here

Caitlyn Allen
Caitlyn Allen (she/her) - Arts Ed - BA Hons Musical Theatre (third year)

I was born and raised in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. I first started singing when I was 6 or 7 years old, after I watched Joseph at the Palladium in 2007. The first experience of performing was when I was 10, I was cast as Annie in Annie at the St Alban Arena. I had always loved musical theatre, so when I was cast in Annie I found it mad that I was up on stage doing what I love. I auditioned for Tring Park when I was 10 and was fortunate enough to win two scholarships for what ended up being seven years of training in musical theatre until I was 18 years old. During my time at Tring, I also took part in Little Shop of Horrors as Audrey at the Milton Keynes Theatre with Vivo D’Arte, a youth theatre production. At Tring, I was fortunate enough to perform in cabarets across London, including at the Shaw Theatre and The Pheasantry.

Sondheim experience: I performed "Take Me to the World" from Evening Primrose and "You Could Drive A Person Crazy" from Company for my first year singing project at ArtsEd, which was an absolute blast.

Favourite Sondheim song: "Stay with Me" from Into the Woods

 

Favourite Sondheim show: I can’t choose one! Either Into the Woods or Company

 

Dream MT role: Sally Bowles in Cabaret or Elphaba in Wicked

Who most inspires you?: It’ll have to be Patti LuPone, as she channels every single character she performs with such conviction and power. I’ve always admired that Patti puts the story first no matter what the character, and her powerhouse voice is an amazing bonus to add to the character. Also Patti is the most iconic diva of musical theatre and I adore her work ethic and personality. The passion she has for the theatre is unmatched.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: I’m so honoured to be selected in the final of SSSSPOTY. I adore Sondheim and to be able to perform on the Sondheim stage honouring his work is incredible. As a graduating actor, I cannot believe that I have been given this amazing opportunity just before I go into the industry as a professional.

Rithvik Andugula
Rithvik Andugula (he/him) - LAMDA - BA Acting (third year)

Born in India, the state of Andhra Pradesh. Moved out to the UK aged 5, being raised in London and Cardiff. I started acting around the age of 11, my first performance being in the Great Hall in Aberystwyth Arts Centre. I was very interested from then on, but didn't have as much opportunity in Cardiff. Due to my high school performing a musical every year, I was able to take part again and build on my love for performing. I've been in many shows, with some of my favourites being Les Misérables, My Fair Lady and Grease, my first musical!

 

I was in a theatre company called Harmonic Arts Company Cardiff, as well as Young Actors Studio, a year course in Royal Welsh College of Music and Dramatic Art. I had singing lessons from various singing teachers over the years, starting from when I was 15. Performing-wise, I was a finalist for the Roundhouse poetry slam, where I performed two self-written pieces, as well as other venues when it comes to poetry. I also make music, as a Rapper/singer, releasing an EP last year, and performing at gigs coming later this year. As an artist, performing blends into one, whether it's poetry, a monologue, or a song, it all gives me the same satisfaction and joy. Building on these skills over the years, have allowed me to create an avenue into all these respected fields.

Sondheim experience: I've sung a couple songs from West Side Story, at some small showcases.

Favourite Sondheim song: "Maria" from West Side Story

 

Favourite Sondheim show: Sweeney Todd

 

Dream MT role: Alexander Hamilton

Who most inspires you?: My parents, for sacrificing everything and emigrating to the UK to provide a better life for their children.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: I am incredibly grateful to be selected as a finalist and I hope to give people an experience through my work! Being a South Asian artist, there aren't many of us being represented, especially in the Musical Theatre world and I'd like to do whatever I can to help change that. To be on the Sondheim Theatre stage, where my favourite musical is shown everyday, is a literal dream come true. This will be a beautiful moment for all of us, as young upcoming performers to share the space in an incredible theatre and supporting one another!

Annabelle Aquino
Annabelle Aquino (she/her) - Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) - BA Musical Theatre (second year)

I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I started singing as a very little girl, and first got interested in performing when I was 9 and participated in my first musical, a junior version of Disney's Aristocats, and immediately decided that was what I wanted to do forever! I trained for 8 years, until 2018, at JAM Academy, an extracurricular musical theatre school in Santo Domingo, where I acted in 10 of the shows they produced, six of which were presented at the Dominican National Theatre (including Oliver!, Sound of Music and Shrek the Musical, among others). I was also in two professional productions in Dominican Republic in 2019, as Olive Ostrovsky in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and as Natalie Goodman in Next to Normal.

Sondheim experience: I've never been in a Sondheim show! My only Sondheim experience so far was an internal workshop of Company we did as part of my current course, and I loved every minute of it! A fun fact, however, is that I auditioned for my current course with a Sondheim song, "Green Finch and Linnet Bird"!

Favourite Sondheim song: Really hard to decide, but I'll have to go with "Johanna" from Sweeney Todd!

 

Favourite Sondheim show: Either Sweeney Todd or West Side Story

 

Dream MT role: So many! If I had to pick one though, I'd go with Christine Daaé in Phantom of the Opera

Who most inspires you?: There's so many people who inspire me that if you asked me in a week the answer would change; however right now I'd say Joan Baez, because I deeply admire the way she was able to use her art to make a statement and raise awareness about the world, and kickstart action towards improving it. I'm also very inspired by my younger brother, as I'm constantly being blown away by his kindness and his wisdom.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It's such an honor, and I'm absolutely thrilled to be selected! As someone coming from a small country where the theatre industry and training opportunities, though growing, aren't as developed as they would be in the UK or the US, it makes me feel very seen, and appreciative of knowing that there's a space for everyone regardless of where they come from! I'm so thankful for the opportunity!

Tommy Bell
Tommy Bell (he/him) - Bristol Old Vic Theatre School - BA (Hons) Professional Acting (second year

I was born in raised in Bangor, Co. Down, a beautiful, golden, seaside resort in sunny Northern Ireland! I've wanted to be an actor ever since my debut performance as King Herod in Grange Park Primary School's Nativity production, circa 2007. It must have been the power trip of getting to play the person that ruled over my fellow classmates aged 7.

 

Once I had caught the bug, I genuinely couldn't be stopped. From that age onward, I enrolled in Youth Theatre at McMaster's stage school, got myself lessons in singing and acting and did more Am-Dram's and youth productions than I had hot dinners. It's been an honour and a privilege to be able to perform in Northern Ireland's most beautiful and prominent theatres and arts venues with memories and friends that I'll cherish forever.

 

The world of theatre became my absolute safe place, being a gay man growing up back home I found a community that accepted me for me and my contribution to performing - it always felt to me like the wizarding world in Harry Potter - hidden in plain sight there were church halls and studios and classrooms in which people from all walks of life were making nothing short of magic regardless of name or religion or sexuality or politics. It was so seductive and of course still is to this day!

Sondheim experience: I've been lucky enough to have performed in two of Sondheim's hit shows: West Side Story and Into the Woods, in which I played The Witch (of course!) Produced by MMK Productions back home, it was an open-air theatre event... with actual trees... and mud... and rain. Joking aside, though, it's possibly the most fun I've ever had in front of an audience, and we were all so tremendously proud of the result. That part had felt like a dream that would never come true for me so getting to play it was so special. The way in which Stephen Sondheim seemed to instinctively understand the human condition and better yet instantly be able to communicate it through song is nothing short of genius and I feel so lucky to have been able to participate in two productions of his work.

Favourite Sondheim song: This is a completely unfair question and nothing short of cruel. But if I HAD to pick I think I would go with "Sunday" from Sunday In The Park with George. There is something so hypnotic about it. I could listen to it for hours.

Favourite Sondheim show: This was even harder to answer... I think I'll have to go with Into The Woods. It is universally poignant. I think that it can relate to people in ways that are completely individual - which is what I feel is magic about theatre in general - but this is underpinned so cleverly with the alleviation of comedy and not taking itself too seriously.

Dream MT role: Emcee in Cabaret. Every day of the week.

Who most inspires you?: I think I'd have to say Judi Dench. She speaks to my soul. She has a warmth and playfulness to her acting that I think is so rare, and she has always approached musical theatre as an actor first. This idea kept me going through my life in musical theatre, knowing the truth can be obtained within a musical just as much as within a straight play if you commit to the character and live in their world completely - something I feel Dame Jude does with ease.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It' a pretty difficult thing to put into words. Ten years ago, my Dad took me to see Les Misérables in the very theatre the final will be held in and that little bright eyed 12 year old would probably burst with joy at he prospect of being on that same stage, singing Sondheim's work. In fact, this 21 year old is bursting with joy for that reason too! It is such an honour and I feel so grateful to have been trusted with this place in the final to, hopefully, be some part of the legacy of such a great artist.

Joe Boyle
Joe Boyle (he/him) - Mountview - BA Hons Musical Theatre (third year)

I was born in Lancashire and lived there all my life before moving to London when I was 18. All my grandparents are from the Republic of Ireland. I started performing when I was about 8 years old, after seeing my older sister Dominique dancing in a local production.  I definitely just copied her and began taking dance classes (and loved it!) My older brother Danny is also a musician, so slowly but surely I started to sing and train in acting too.

In 2014 I was cast in the all male production of Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne, which cemented my desire to pursue a career as a performer. Since then I've trained with National Youth Music Theatre and done many school productions, my favourite of which being Oliver!, where I played the Artful Dodger.

I'm about to graduate Mountview and have loved my time there! While in my third year I've performed as Marius in a new reimagined version of Les Misérables and also played Edward Kynaston in Jessica Swale's genius and hilarious play Nell Gwynn!

Sondheim experience:  I have sadly never never had the chance to be in a Sondheim production, but one day! [Shortly after writing this, Joe appeared on stage as part of the student chorus in the Sondheim's Old Friends gala at the Sondheim Theatre!]

Favourite Sondheim song: "Stay With Me" from Into The Woods or "Being Alive" from Company. Both touch on many themes, but I think they are really at their core about not being lonely, which I think is beautiful and always makes me cry.

Favourite Sondheim show: Company. Something about that show has a grip on me, Sondheim just knew how to capture what it feels like to be human, and I think Company is a great example of that. 

Dream MT role: Fabrizio in The Light in The Piazza. I also love learning languages and I would find playing a part in Italian so fun and rewarding, plus the score is unbelievably beautiful.

Who most inspires you?: An artist that inspires me a lot is Jessie Buckley, I recently saw her in Cabaret and she took my breath away. I also have to say my Mother; the past few years have been difficult due to losing friends and family, but she just keeps going.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It is a complete honour and privilege. I really respect the people who have done this before me and have been so inspired by their work. Thank you!

Desmonda Cathabel
Desmonda Cathabel (she/her) - Royal Academy of Music - MA Musical Theatre (one-year course)

I'm from Jakarta in Indonesia. We don't have any musical theatre training at all there so I've never been trained before going to London for my current Masters at the Royal Academy of Music. What I did a lot was community theatre. I co-founded a small community theatre with my friends called Jakarta Performing Arts Community back in 2013, and with them I've done quite a lot of amateur- to professional-level musical productions. Also, I've done quite a number of local Indonesian musicals as well, be it community or professional, as well as a number of variety performances on TV, stage, cafes, corporate events, voice-over work, and much more. I was also a part of a few International musical theatre workshops, one with YES ASEAN Academy for selected students all over ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] for 12 days, and also another one called Indonesia Menuju Broadway, which gave me a scholarship to train in New York for a week.

Sondheim experience: I've performed in a production of Company with my community theatre Jakarta Performing Arts Community, our first show with live orchestra. I was also a part of Sondheim tribute concert by Maria Friedman for a week at the Crazy Coqs and then it transferred to the Menier Chocolate Factory as a Sondheim, Hamlisch and Legrand tribute. I was also a part of the featured group the Sondheim Old Friends Gala Concert at the Sondheim Theatre. And I've just been cast as Beth in our final production at RAM of Merrily We Roll Along!

Favourite Sondheim song: "Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George.

Favourite Sondheim show: Company!

Dream MT role: Dot in Sunday in The Park with George! ;)

Who most inspires you?: My recent inspiration is the members of the k-pop band BTS. They're hard working artists who have been through a lot and create amazing and honest art and music from it. And theyre unabashedly joyful and proud of their work and that really inspire me as an artist!

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: As someone coming from a faraway country to pursue an impossible dream of musical theatre and having English as a second language, I used to be extremely doubtful that I had what it takes to do it. But being selected to this final, doing Sondheim's work - which is famously hard to do - I am now more confident that I'm good enough to do what I love to do and able to convey the stories that I want to convey through my performance.

Ed Cooke
Ed Cooke (he/him) - East 15 Acting School - BA Acting & Contemporary Theatre (third year)

I was born and raised in Leeds/Bradford. I fell in love with musical theatre very young after joining my local drama group Stage 84. I was fortunate to play Michael in the 2008 UK Tour of Mary Poppins before landing the role of Oliver Twist at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane the following year. I also co-originated the role of Leo in Taylor & Wood’s The Go-Between musical at Leeds Playhouse and have taken part in two productions with NYMT.

Sondheim experience: I've been a big fan since a teenager when, in pursuit of a horror film to watch, I stumbled upon Sweeney Todd. My fave experience to date has been going in blind to Follies at the National Theatre and being blown away by the power of that show, particularly the audacious last 15 minutes. I've yet to perform in a full-on Sondheim musical but there's plenty of time!

Favourite Sondheim song: It’s very hard to top “Sunday” from Sunday in the Park with George.

Favourite Sondheim show: Follies or Company! Zero skips.

Dream MT role: I would very enthusiastically play a chair if it meant I could perform in Fun Home or Spring Awakening.

Who most inspires you?: As a performer, the always soulful Jodie Prenger for her incredible charisma and connection through music. As a human being, my insanely brave and talented younger sister Imogen.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It's a huge honour to have been selected! It feels particularly poignant to be taking part in the first such event since Sondheim's passing last year. He built musical playgrounds for actors and being able to have a go on at least a swing or two at this scale is a dream come true.

Cassius Hackforth
Cassius Hackforth (he/him) - Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance - BA (Hons) Musical Theatre (third year)

I was actually born in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and lived there for a few years as my dad worked in America (so I actually have an two passports - American and British!) But I spent most of my childhood in Wales, where my mum grew up.

 

I’ve been passionate about performing since I was about 7, I remember singing "Any Dream Will Do" at a Primary School concert and I was utterly obsessed with acting and singing ever since then. I then started doing Amateur Theatre, before auditioning for the National Youth Music Theatre in 2016. I spent two years touring with them, firstly playing the title role in "The Piper of Hamelin", directed by Jeremy James Taylor OBE, and then as Bullfrog in "Honk" the following year, directed by Jordan Murphy. NYMT gave me an insight into professional theatre, and that was when I realised I needed to at least try to do this as a career! I’ve always had the attitude of "you don’t ask, you don’t get", so I’ve entered every opportunity available because... why not?! I’ve done concerts and cabarets at The Adelphi Theatre, Arts Theatre and Union Theatre before and during training.

Sondheim experience: Sondheim was the first time I ever truly felt something while watching musical theatre. Sure, watching musicals I was excited and giddy, but I remember watching a clip on YouTube of Jenna Russel singing at The Proms for Sondheim's 80th Birthday, and I can’t even describe the emotion I felt. That sent me into a crazy few years of quite literally watching every show I could, starting with the shows he wrote lyrics for. I saw the Chichester production of Gypsy with Imelda Staunton and quite literally died in the audience, she blew me away. I then of course went through Sweeney Todd, Into the Woods, Company and his whole repertoire.


I couldn’t believe the versatility he had, and how each show had a completely different feel. I first performed Sondheim for my Drama School Auditions ("Something's Coming" and "Giants in the Sky"), and then an Into the Woods workshop in my second year and finally, in my first third year show, I did Merrily We Roll Along. That show will stay with me forever.

Favourite Sondheim song: It has to be "Old Friends Part 1/ Like it Was" from Merrily We Roll Along. It’s utterly heartbreaking seeing Mary try and keep it together in this song, and Jenna Russell broke my heart. She was mesmerising in the Menier production.

Favourite Sondheim show: A very close call between Company and Into the Woods. I saw Marianne Elliot’s production of Company very poignantly the day I auditioned for Trinity Laban, and it was one of the best productions I’ve ever seen.

Dream MT role: Oof. This is a hard one. Does there have to be one role?! Sondheim-wise, the list could go on! I would literally play anyone in Into the Woods. Literally cast me as anyone, at any point in my life, I’d even play the giant's foot if they needed one. I’d love to be Marius in Les Misérables one day too.

Who most inspires you?: Onstage, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton and Jenna Russell. Those three powerhouse actors have had the biggest impact on me. Watching them has taught me so much about acting and about text. Over lockdown, I found a clip of Julia sing "Broadway Baby", and all I can say is I still haven’t recovered - it’s phenomenal. Also special mention to former SSSSPOTY winner Alex Cardell, who has inspired me since 11-year-old me performed with him in a small production of 13! the Musical. He has been a beacon of inspiration and I treasure the support and guidance he has given me.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: Quite literally a dream come true. I’ve dreamt of entering since before drama school, so to be in the final is literally crazy. I’m so lucky and so grateful to have this opportunity. Can’t believe it!

Isobel Mackie
Isobel Mackie (she/her) - Royal Academy of Music - MA Musical Theatre (one-year course)

I was born and raised in south London. I first became interested in performing through school productions and later during my undergraduate degree I also performed in many amateur dramatics societies. I've also participated in BYMT and NYMT shows, most recently in NYMT’s Henrietta as Cornelia Van de Burg. I'm now training for a masters degree in Musical Theatre at the Royal Academy of Music.

Sondheim experience: I recently performed in a production of Into The Woods at RAM, directed by Shiv Rabheru, where I was lucky enough to multi-role as The Witch and The Baker’s Wife. I also recently performed in the ensemble of Maria Friedman’s Legacy, and the Sondheim's Old Friends Gala performance.

Favourite Sondheim song: "Sunday" from Sunday in the park with George.

Favourite Sondheim show: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Dream MT role: Lucille Frank in Jason Robert Brown's and Alfred Urhy’s Parade.

Who most inspires you?: Baroness Brenda Hale, former President of the British Supreme Court and pioneer in women’s rights, children’s rights, and mental health law. She’s an icon of progress and represents the kind of goodness against human error that deserves to have stories and art remember her work forever. I look forward to the plays and books they will write about her experiences (for example, The Children Act by Ian McEwan).

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It’s a privilege beyond belief. I could not be more grateful for the beautiful opportunity to celebrate the phenomenal work of our recently departed, extraordinarily beloved Stephen Sondheim.

Callum Martin
Callum Martin (he/him) - Bird College Conservatoire For Dance and Musical Theatre - BA (Hons) in Musical Theatre and Dance (third year)

I'm from Dublin, Ireland. I couldn't tell you when the theatre bug started, but what I can tell you is I watched the original Wizard of Oz film every day for about a year when in my early years of primary school! When I decided I'd never be Judy Garland, in my teenage years I turned my eye to other roles! I started singing at DIT Conservatoire in Dublin and from there developed a love for music.


My very first musical was a production of Les Misérables School's Edition in which I played Thenardier with a fabulous youth theatre group called Sean Gilligan Performing Arts. With them, I also performed the roles of Andre in Phantom, Action in West Side Story, Rum Tum Tugger in Cats and Danny in Grease! Safe to say by this point, as you can tell, I was truly hooked! I also loved spending all my time watching bootlegs of all of my favourite shows, many of which included Sondheim's glorious work.

Sondheim experience: I recently played Buddy Plummer in Follies - my final 3rd year show at Bird College!

Favourite Sondheim song: Toughest question ever! Probably "Waiting For The Girls Upstairs" from Follies OR "Move On" from Sunday in the Park with George, just due to the sheer reflective quality of both songs. "Move On" in particular sparks something in me that will never fail to make me cry!

Favourite Sondheim show: Assassins.

Dream MT role: Simply couldn't name one so here's my shortest possible answer! Either Bob Gaudio in Jersey Boys or George in Sunday in the Park with George.

Who most inspires you?: On a personal level, 100% my mam and dad, Caroline and Paul; they both embody every beautiful characteristic I could ever wish for! As a performer, it would have to be Sir Elton John. He's one of the artists who inspired me to start performing, and his music has been a saving grace to me on some tough days!

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: I remember coming to drama school at Bird and seeing instagram posts of graduate Paige Fenlon in the 2019 final and thinking to myself - "If that could be me one day, my life would be a dream" and safe to say when I got the email to say I was a finalist; I cried for about two hours! This is the greatest and most incredible opportunity I've ever been given, and I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get here! Also a huge thank you to all at the Sondheim Society for making my dream of performing this glorious material on a stage like the Sondheim's come true!

Jade Oswald
Jade Oswald (she/her) - Royal Academy of Music - MA in Musical Theatre (one-year course)

I was born and raised in South-East London before moving to Abu Dhabi at the age of 15 for four years. It was one of the best experiences of my life, as I met people from all over the world, experienced different cultures and most importantly, it was sunny every day! A nice change from the grey English weather...

 

I've been performing in plays and musicals since I was little with fantastic amateur dramatic societies and at school. I was first truly interested in performing when I played Belle in Beauty and the Beast when I was 13; if Disney can’t lure you into the performing world, what can?


I had some excellent performance experiences while living in Abu Dhabi, including playing Nora in A Doll’s House and performing as a backing singer for The Rolling Stones’ opening concert of their world tour, 14 on Fire.


I've been cast a principal in three new musicals at The Other Palace theatre with the National Youth Music Theatre including Beth/Mum in Imaginary, Sabine in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rachel in Henrietta. NYMT solidified my desire to perform professionally so I went to drama school to study Musical Theatre at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. During my time there, I played Morticia in The Addams Family, Judith in Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens, and performed as Stepka/Ensemble in the Doctor Zhivago premiere concert at Cadogan Hall. I'm very grateful to be playing Margaret Johnson in The Light in the Piazza at The Royal Academy of Music this summer.

Sondheim experience: I've sadly never been in a Stephen Sondheim musical; however, the universe heard my plea and I got to perform as Ensemble in the recent Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends Gala at the iconic Sondheim Theatre. I was also extremely fortunate to have performed as Featured Ensemble in Maria Friedman and Friends at The Menier Chocolate Factory, being able to watch the Sondheim legend Maria Friedman from the wings every night. I've also recently performed "Sunday in the Park with George" in a masterclass with Imelda Staunton - one of my all-time favourite actors.

Favourite Sondheim song: "Sunday in the Park with George" .

Favourite Sondheim show: Sunday in the Park with George!

Dream MT role: Dot in Sunday in the Park with George… I'm sensing a pattern here…!

Who most inspires you?: I know this is cliché but the person who honestly most inspires me is my mum. Firstly, she is the reason I have got to where I am today as she is basically my manager (or ‘mum-ager’ as some would say). I owe everything to her. Secondly, she is the strongest, kindest, most selfless person I know and will never fail to be there for her loved ones. Finally, she is the only other person I can find who shares my chocolate obsession; thanks mum!

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: I feel incredibly honoured to have been given the opportunity to celebrate Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful, unique and genius work alongside such talented performers. Not only is his work wonderfully detailed and full of truth but also allows the performer space to bring a character’s raw emotions to the surface in the way they see fit, making every performance of his work unique. I am also extremely grateful to be performing his work in the final as I have always admired the way he writes female-identifying characters. He makes them real, quirky, funny, kind, shy, bold and all the wonderfully raw quirks that people actually have and does not confine them to an aesthetic tick box. Sondheim has encouraged everlasting change in our industry, and I'm honoured to celebrate such an influential figure.

Ella Shepherd
Ella Shepherd (she/her) - Bird College Conservatoire For Dance and Musical Theatre - Professional Dance and Musical Theatre BA (Hons) (third year)

I was born in Kettering, Northamptonshire. I've always enjoyed and been interested in music and dance, and I've attended dance classes since I was young. When I was 10 years old, I went to see the RSC's Matilda and I just thought, "that's what I want to do!" I joined a dance and musical theatre company, where I was introduced to writers such as Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown, and I fell in love with their music and storytelling abilities. I performed in many local showcases and Am-Dram productions before starting my Professional Dance and Musical Theatre degree at Bird College. I'm now in my final year, and have just finished playing the role of Carlotta in my third year musical, Follies. What an honour it has been to work on and perform Sondheim's masterpiece "I'm Still Here" over the past few weeks!

Sondheim experience: Sadly I have never been to experience Sondheim's work live, but I adore both the West Side Story and Into the Woods movie musicals. I've also been privileged enough to perform in Sondheim's Follies for my third-year musical at Bird College, playing the role of Carlotta.

Favourite Sondheim song: What a question! I don't think I could pick just one! I adore all of the Witch's songs from Into the Woods, as well as (of course) "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George. I also love the whole Sweeney Todd score, as "The Worst Pies in London" and "Pirelli's Miracle Elixir" remind me of my two best friends, Tom and Chloe. Of course, the whole Follies score has come to mean a great deal to me, and "I'm Still Here" will always have a special place in my heart.

Favourite Sondheim show: Another impossible question! But I'd have to say Follies for sentimental value, although Into the Woods would probably be a close 2nd place.

Dream MT role: I'd love to be in a show like Chicago or Cabaret, so I'd probably say Velma Kelly/Mama Morton or Sally Bowles! (but, again, an impossible choice - it changes every day). If it was Sondheim, I'd love to have the chance to play the Witch from Into the Woods one day.

Who most inspires you?: For musical theatre performers, I'd have to say Cynthia Erivo, Eva Noblezada, Patti Lupone, Jessie Mueller, Donna Murphy, Billy Porter and MJ Rodriguez, purely because of their ability to capture characters and tell stories in the most formidable ways (and of course, their legendary voices). In life, all of my incredible friends training in musical theatre - the strength and resilience of young performers fighting for their place in this industry has to be inspiring to anyone!

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: I feel unbelievably lucky to be selected for the Final of SSSSPOTY, and I hope my performance will be a credit and a testament to all of the support and hard work of my tutors at Bird College, namely Ed Goggin, Jackee Stockwell, Simon Gray, Phillip Shades and Luka Bjelis.

Izi Maxwell
RESERVES
 
Izi Maxwell (she/her) - Mountview - BA Performance, Musical Theatre (third year)

I was born in Hong Kong and raised in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, with all of my family coming from Liverpool.

 

I started weekend acting classes at the age of 5 (probably because I was such an excitable kid that my family thought I needed to put that energy somewhere) and continued at various different weekend schools until I was 17. After my A levels, I was set to go to Liverpool University to study philosophy and economics but pulled out last minute to do one-year Musical Theatre training at Emil Dale Academy. I intended to go back to Uni but I loved it so much I stayed for another year before joining the National Youth Theatre and I'm now graduating from the BA three-year degree at Mountview. In my final year at Mountview, I was in Les Misérables and Company, and I just finished playing Elle Woods in Legally Blonde.

Sondheim experience: I did Into the Woods, where I played Jack's mum, at my weekend performing arts school when I was 17, and this year was in Mountview's production of Company, where I played Jenny.

Favourite Sondheim song: Probably "Moments in the Woods", of course [my SSSSPOTY choice]. If not, maybe "Everybody Loves Louis" or "Being Alive" - so hard to pick!

Favourite Sondheim show: Sunday In The Park With George/West Side Story.

Dream MT role: Probably Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and would love to be Mrs Johnstone in Blood Brothers later on in my career!

Who most inspires you?: Hannah Waddingham - she's an amazing musical theatre star while also being well respected and accepted in the TV and film industry. Her speech after receiving her Emmy was amazing. "West End stars need to be on screen more please give them a chance because they wont let you down". Absolutely iconic! Her career has had so much versatility and success and that's something I'd hope for my own too.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: Amazing! I've been obsessed with Sondheim's music and lyrics since I first started training and to be recognised by the panel is really special. It's been an honour to perform Company earlier this year after losing him and it will be an honour again to step on that stage as a selected performer. As we all know, his work will live on and I hope to be able to perform more of it in years to come.

Mackenzie Laren
Mackenzie Larsen (she/her) - LAMDA - MFA Professional Acting (second year)

I was born in Utah in the USA, raised in a small town called Brigham City. I’ve been performing since I was a kid. My first ever school play was Snow White - I was 5 and I played a deer. I did theatre and singing all growing up, participating in school musicals and taking voice lessons. I got my undergraduate degree in acting before pursuing my graduate degree, which I’m doing currently.

Sondheim experience: I’ve never performed Sondheim before! All my experience is purely as a fan!

Favourite Sondheim song: "Being Alive". Woof.

Favourite Sondheim show: Sweeney Todd.

Dream MT role: Currently anything I could get in Hadestown would be a dream come true. (If I got to play Eurydice specifically I wouldn’t be mad.)

Who most inspires you?: My mom. Her ferocious optimism and her willingness to learn, challenge and empathize.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It’s so special because what I love most about Sondheim is it’s never about the pretty notes or a pleasant melody - it’s about the acting. It’s about the character. It’s about what’s being communicated through the notes. I’m honored that someone recognized that in my submission.

Tom Watson
Tom Watson (he/him) - Bird College Conservatoire For Dance and Musical Theatre - BA Hons, Professional Dance and Musical Theatre (third year)

I was born and raised in the quaint countryside of Worcestershire. Evesham, to be specific. I first found a love for performing when I was 7 or 8 years old. My dad will never let me forget when he took me to my first acting class and how, on the drive home, I "chewed the ear off" him, going on about how we learnt to mime picking an apple off a tree . During my teen years, I took part in many amateur dramatic productions of both musicals and pantomimes, playing various lead and ensemble roles. After a gap year of working at Disneyland Paris and travelling Europe, I trained for a year at Chiswick Theatre Arts learning about Musical Theatre and Cabaret performing.

Sondheim experience: I've watched a fair few productions of Sondheim shows in my life, both amateur and professional but my first experience with his works was during my time on my Diploma Course. In a rep class, we did a week where we had to bring in a Sondheim song. A teacher suggested I look at "Franklin Shepard, Inc." This led me on a spiral of research into Sondheim's body of work and became amazed at his incredible lyricism and the way he can make a character's voice seem so real through a song.

Favourite Sondheim song: "Franklin Shepard, Inc."

Favourite Sondheim show: Company. Especially the 2018 revival with a female Bobbie, as it gave a new meaning to the pressures of getting married, which seems to be greater for a woman in society than a man.

Dream MT role: I adore comedy and comedic roles so I would say my dream role would be Mr Wormwood in Matilda or perhaps Leo Bloom in The Producers.

Who most inspires you?: A big inspiration in my work is Nathan Lane. I find his versatility as a performer something I strive to achieve in myself. I love how he can go from straight plays to musicals to TV sitcoms so genuinely and with such ease that he appears to belong in one style of performance just as much as the other. I also admire his authenticity as a performer, constantly being able to bring himself to a role so that it is unmistakably a Nathan Lane performance.

How does it feel to be selected for SSSSPOTY?: It means a nice night out in the theatre! But on a more serious note, I have just finished performing in a run of Follies at Bird College and it is a huge blessing to know where and when I will next be performing and that it will once again be the incredible works of Sondheim. It is such an honour to be given the opportunity to perform on such an esteemed stage as the Sondheim Theatre where many industry greats have performed before.