Tracie Bennett to host SSSSPOTY 2018

Follies star Tracie Bennett to host West End gala of the 12th Annual Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and 11th Annual Stiles + Drewe Prize

The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments today announce the 12th annual West End Gala for The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and the 11th anniversary of The Stiles + Drewe Prize. The 2018 competition is being staged at the Savoy Theatre on Sunday 10 June at 3pm, hosted by Olivier Award winner Tracie Bennett. Chris Hocking returns to direct the annual gala, with musical direction by Mark Etherington.

This annual competition, co-produced by The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments, sees twelve of the top student performers from musical theatre and drama schools across the UK each perform a classic song by Stephen Sondheim and a new musical theatre song, written by members of Mercury Musical Developments. The first prize is £1,000. Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson returns to Chair the Student Performer judges with Rebecca Caine (the original Cosette in Les Miserables, and Christine in the original London and Canadian companies of The Phantom of the Opera), Rebecca Trehearn (Olivier Award winner for the recent London run of Showboat), Stephen Ridley (Musical Director for American in Paris and The King and I) and David Benedict (Sondheim’s official biographer).

The Stiles + Drewe Prize supports and develops new musical theatre writing via its two distinct arms. Recognising an outstanding song from a new musical and supported by The Entertainment Business, 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 Sharon D Clarke (Caroline, or Change, The Lion King, We Will Rock You) and writer/director Susie McKenna (former Creative Director of Hackney Empire).

In addition, the winner of the Stiles and Drewe Mentorship Award - now in its third year, generously supported by Music Theatre International (Europe) - will also be announced at the Gala. One new musical and its writer(s) will be selected to receive mentorship over a 12-month period, culminating in an industry showcase. Along with Stiles and Drewe, the 2018 judges were composer Grant Olding, the Artistic Director of Royal & Derngate James Dacre and Chichester Festival Theatre’s producer Amelia Ferrand-Rook. A song from each of the three finalist shows will be performed at the event.

Olivier Award-winning writing duo George Stiles and Anthony Drewe said today:

“This is without doubt an incredibly strong year for both The Mentorship and Best New Song Prize and we congratulate everyone who entered, all the finalists and shortlisted shows on your passion, imagination and wonderful writing. Keep pumping new blood into new British musical theatre!”

The Stephen Sondheim Society Chairman Craig Glenday commented:

“Edward Seckerson tells us each year that the standard gets higher and higher, but having heard some of these 12 students during the heats, I can guarantee 100% that this is most certainly the case. It's an honour to present these talented finalists with the chance to perform on the London stage – for most of them, their West End debut – and for audiences, it's a wonderful afternoon of music and the chance to say, 'I heard them here first!'"

Executive Director of MMD Victoria Saxton said:

“Showcase and Development opportunities such as these are vital to support the creation of excellent new British musical theatre writing. There is so much talent amongst the MMD membership and we can’t wait for the public and industry to witness this. Our hope is that this is just the start of the development journey for all the writers taking part”

Tracie Bennett’s theatre work includes Follies (National Theatre); and in the West End, Ruthless – The Musical, Mrs Henderson Presents, End of the Rainbow (also Broadway - winner of Outer Critics’ Circle and Drama Desk awards; and Olivier and Tony Award nominations), La Cage aux Folles, Hairspray – Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical, Les Misérables, She Loves Me - Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical. Other theatre work includes The Hypochondriac (Theatre Royal Bath), Sex, Chips & Rock ’n’ Roll - TMA Award for Best Supporting Performance in a Musical (Royal Exchange Manchester), Carousel, Billy Liar (ATG), High Society (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), and Guys and Dolls, Educating Rita, Spring Awakening (Sheffield Theatre). For television, her work includes Scott & Bailey, Burn It, New Tricks, Candy Cabs, Dalziel and Pascoe, Vincent, The Royal, The Long Firm, MIT: Murder Investigation Team, Heroes and Villains, Keen Eddie, Where the Heart Is, Coronation Street (as series regular Sharon Bentley), Heartbeat, The Gingerbread Girl, Joking Apart, The Upper Hand, Rich Tea and Sympathy, Making Out; and for film, Shirley Valentine, Deep Red Instant, Knights and Emeralds.

The 12 performer finalists are:

  • Alex Cardall, Arts Educational

  • Amara Okereke, Arts Educational

  • Bonnie Baddoo, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

  • Pedro Leandro, Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

  • Will Carey, Guildford School of Acting

  • Donal Finn, LAMDA

  • Shelby Flannery, LAMDA