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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

  • James Stirling, Mountview Academy of the Theatre Arts

  • Desirée Infascelli, Musical Theatre Masterclass

  • Sabi Perez, RADA

  • Elliott Wooster, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama

  • Emily Beresford, The Hammond

Please see below for the full list of the 12 Best New Song finalists:

  • Rob Eyles & Robert Gould - As Long As I Have Music

  • Rachel Bellman & Josh Bird – Better Kind Of Me

  • Adam Wachter – Down the Stairs

  • China Doll, Roxanne Lamendola, Leah Fogo & Scott Stait – Everything Will be Alright

  • Bomi Lee & Jason Young - Famous

  • Jim Barne & Kit Buchan – If I Had Wings

  • Rosabella Gregory – Love

  • Bella Barlow & A.C. Smith – Set the Alarm for Six

  • Benjamin Till, Nathan Taylor & Sir Arnold Wesker – Shone With the Sun

  • Nick Butcher – Somewhere In-Between

  • Sara Eker and Giles Fernando – Stars

  • Adam G Wachter – You and Me

The finalists for the MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award 2018 are:

• Terror at the Sweet Shop: Music & Lyrics by Gavin Brock, Book by Nichola Rivers

• The Mill on the Floss: Book, Music & Lyrics by Thomas Sutcliffe, Additional Music & Lyrics by Lydia Grant

The Season: Book & Lyrics by Kit Buchan, Music by Jim Barne

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 received a full production of their musical The Superhero at the Southwark Playhouse. Past finalists of the student performer prize have included Hollywood star Taron Egerton, Tony Award winner Cynthia Erivo and Alex Young (Carrie in Carousel at ENO, Young Sally in Follies and now Sally Smith in Me and My Girl at Chichester).


Savoy Theatre

Strand, London, WC2R 0ET

Box Office: 0844 871 7687


Ticket prices: £16.75–£41.75

Running time: 2 hr 30 min

The Stephen Sondheim Society

The Stephen Sondheim Society is a registered charity that studies, appreciates and celebrates the works of Stephen Sondheim through educational events, academic research and theatre visits.

Mercury Musical Developments

Mercury Musical Developments (MMD) is a registered charity and membership organisation dedicated to developing new musical theatre writing. MMD is part of the Arts Council England national portfolio.

For further information contact:

Amy Bramman 07944539520 /

This event is in aid of The Stephen Sondheim Society (reg. charity no. 1142092) and Mercury Musical Developments (reg. charity no. 1045606).

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