The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2010 / The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song Prize 2010

Merrily We Roll Along – Our Time

Ariane Barnes (Rose Bruford School)
Dick Tracy – Sooner or Later
Michael Bruce
Hey Diddle Diddle – The Sound of Silence

Douglas Carter (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Marry Me a Little – Marry Me a Little [cut from Company but included in the Sondheim compilation show]
Michelle Magorian & Gary Carpenter
Goodnight Mr Tom – Picture Lullaby

Jane Sullivan (Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts)
Into the Woods – On the Steps of the Palace
Mark Carroll
The Attic – Nightfall

Danielle Steers
Follies – Could I Leave You?
Gwyneth Herbert
Lovely London Town – Lovely London Town

Lewis Oatley (Arts Educational)
Sweeney Todd – Not While I’m Around
Conor Mitchell
The Pornographer’s Wife – What Kind of Life Is This, Masha?

Daisy Maywood (Arts Educational)
Anyone Can Whistle – See What It Gets You/ Anyone Can Whistle
Charles Bloom
Character Breakdown – You’re As Good As It Gets

Jane Horn (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Dick Tracy – More
Paul Boyd & Bernie McGill
The Haunting of Helena Blunden – Cut Above the Rest

Joseph Claus (Royal Academy of Music)
Company – Being Alive
Alexander S. Bermange
Thirteen Days – More Than a Memory

Jamie Szynal (Royal Scottish Academy of Music & Drama)
Into the Woods – Moments in the Wood
Pippa Cleary & Jake Brunger
The Great British Soap Opera – Big White Wedding

Jennifer Harraghy (London School of Musical Theatre)
A Little Night Music – The Miller’s Son
Frank Lazarus
2084 – The Only One You Want

Joe Jameson (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
Into the Woods – Giants in the Sky
Christopher Hamilton
Over the Threshold – Please Can We Leave This Behind?

Alex Young (Royal Academy of Music)
Sunday in the Park with George – Sunday in the Park with George
Christopher Hamilton & Susannah Pearse
Melody Towers – I Clean Up Around Here

Sunday in the Park with George – Sunday

Hannah Waddingham (Compere)
George Stiles & Anthony Drewe
A Little Night Music – Send in the Clowns

Nigel Lilley – Musical Director

Chris Hocking – Director

Neil Marcus and Sam Joseph – Producers

Presented by the Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments

The Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2010
Edward Seckerson (Chairman)
Sally Ann Triplett
Martin Koch
David Grindrod
Maureen Lipman

The Stiles & Drewe Best New Song of 2010 Prize
George Stiles & Anthony Drewe

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 6 June, 2010
Venue: Queen’s Theatre, London

This is the fourth year of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Competition and the third year of the Stiles & Drewe Best Song Award. When the Sondheim showcase was mooted by the Society the master himself asked if it could include the work of new composers and lyricists, as they tend to be forgotten in favour of performing talents. On current showing, however, the new songs are not necessarily by new writers and composers as most of them are veterans of musical-theatre, CVs stuffed with published and performed material. The general public may not yet be aware of their names in the way that Andrew Lloyd Webber is, or Tim Rice, Don Black, Stephen Sondheim or indeed George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.

For example, Alexander S. Bermange has written some sixteen musicals; Charles Bloom has written at least four shows and had his songs performed by Patti LuPone. Mandy Patinkin, Michael Feinstein, Andrea Marcovicci and Christine Ebersole; Paul Boyd has written and composed seventeen original stage musicals; Gary Carpenter has produced operas, musicals and a radio music-drama, “The One Alone”, written with Iris Murdoch, plus film scores, ballets and concert music.

Gwyneth Herbert, artist in residence at Snape Maltings and currently working on a cycle of sea-songs, has written much for BBC Radio and had her work compared to that of Lennon & McCartney, Nina Simone and Tom Waits. Michael Bruce won the first Notes for the Stage competition and is now composer-in-residence at the Bush Theatre in west London. Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary wrote “Jet Set Go!” and “The Great British Soap Opera” which was seen on the Edinburgh Fringe, at Theatre 503 in Battersea and at Jermyn Street Theatre. Mark Carroll is an actor in musical-theatre and the winner of the John Lennon Award from the Performing Rights Society. His compositions have been played by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and recorded by Ruthie Henshall.

Frank Lazarus wrote the music for and performed in the London and Broadway productions of “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine”, co-written with the late Dick Vosburgh with whom he also collaborated on a BBC Radio series on the Marx Brothers. He is also a well-travelled actor, having worked in America, Australia, South Africa and the UK including the National Theatre. Michelle Magorian is a novelist who has written lyrics and performed in plays, musicals and her one-woman show. Conor Mitchell has written a dozen musical plays and over forty other theatre scores as well as an award-winning film-opera, “Pretty Face”. Bernie McGill has had her work broadcast on BBC Radio Ulster, published in newspapers and magazines and her first novel, “The Butterfly Cabinet”, is due to be published in August 2010. Susannah Pearse’s work includes music and lyrics for “Farm!”, lyrics for “Sherlock Holmes (The Early Years)”, and book and lyrics for “Once Upon a Time in Narcissia”. She is currently working on a new musical with Christopher Hamilton, who won the second Tim Williams Award for new songs. So, these are no newcomers to the successful writing of songs for the theatre but well-experienced masters of the art. The present showing brought forth some quite exceptional work.

The talent doesn’t, however, lie only with the creators of the material but also in the many UK music schools and conservatoires who are training singers and actors with extraordinary results. The standard of both the singing and the acting is extremely high and it would be difficult for this reviewer to choose just one out of a dozen performers who are already experienced enough to tackle anything that is thrown at them. The purpose of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year Competition is both to champion new talent and support individuals who have recognised a need to re-train.

The theatre songs of Sondheim are not the easiest of works to put across. It takes a very special talent to capture the essence of the greatest living American composer-lyricist. Each student sings two songs, one by Sondheim and one by new or relatively unknown composers and lyricists. The new songs are selected by Stiles and Drewe. Their shows include “Just So”, “Honk!”, “Tutankhamun”, “Peter Pan” and the new songs for the stage production of “Mary Poppins”. Writers are asked to submit two songs each which are then handed over to the students to choose whatever they think suits their voices. The resulting programme, with both the new material and the Sondheim songs, forms the finalists’ show. The Song Award is organised and presented by Mercury Musical Developments using songs by their own members. Keith and Margaret Stanley donate £1,000 to the winning student, and this year George Stiles and Anthony Drewe gave the same amount but shared it between the two winning songs.

The concert began with the full ensemble singing ‘Our Time’ from “Merrily We Roll Along”, Sondheim’s musical version of the Kaufman & Hart play about the promise of youth but told in reverse with the older characters moving back in time to their earlier days. ‘Our Time’ sums up this student competition, for even those who are not winners have made it to the West End in an appearance on Shaftesbury Avenue. Ariane Barnes opened the main part of the competition with ‘Sooner or Later’, one of the Sondheim songs sung by Madonna in the film of “Dick Tracy”, an assured performance by an artist of no mean talent. Douglas Carter gave a heartfelt reading of ‘Marry Me a Little’, a song cut from “Company”, with a distinct plangent quality, summing up the loneliness of living in isolation in New York. ‘On the Steps of the Palace’ is Cinderella’s song from “Into the Woods”, beautifully essayed here by Jane Sullivan. Danielle Steers’s rendition of ‘Could I Leave You?’ from “Follies” was packed with irony and black-edged humour, a well-modulated take on a Cole Porter ‘list’ song. Lewis Oatley sang Toby’s song ‘Not While I’m Around’ from “Sweeney Todd” with just the right amount of innocent guile. Of the first half dozen entrants Daisy Maywood had the strongest voice and acted out her songs in ‘See What It Gets You’ and ‘Anyone Can Whistle’.

The second-half contenders in the Sondheim stakes opened with “Dick Tracy” again, with Jane Horn performing ‘More’, a popular choice and a very assured performance by a brilliant singer. ‘Being Alive’, from “Company”, is another song about loneliness – Sondheim is full of them – which Joseph Claus sang forcefully, meaning every single word and emotion. Jamie Szynal related Sondheim’s ‘Moments in the Wood’ from “Into the Woods”, with great panache. Jennifer Harraghy sang ‘The Miller’s Son’, the servant girl’s song from “A Little Night Music”, with a delightful knowingness, as she is one of the few characters in the show who is enjoying life. Joe Jameson impressed with ‘Giants in the Sky’ from “Into the Woods”, in a passionate performance that bristled with truth. Finally, Alex Young essayed perhaps one of the most difficult Sondheim pieces, the title song from “Sunday in the Park with George”.

For this kind of competition the students need to sell not only the songs, including Sondheim’s, but also themselves to the judges. This requires acting skills, too. All twelve singers managed to be in character for their Sondheim songs and the ‘new’ songwriters must have been encouraged by the efforts of the dozen talented performers.

Michael Bruce’s ‘The Sound of Silence’ from “Hey Diddle Diddle” features the Spoon from the famous nursery rhyme. Ariane Barnes, as the housewife regretting her life with the Dish that she presumably ran away with, was touching in the extreme. ‘Picture Lullaby’ is from “Goodbye Mr Tom”, a musical adaptation by Michelle Magorian of her novel with music by Gary Carpenter, about a young wartime evacuee, nine-year-old William Beech, who finds love and affection in his new home with old Mr Thomas Oakley (John Thaw was Mr Tom in the television version). The song is a lullaby by William to his baby sister, sung here by Douglas Carter with requisite pathos. Mark Carroll’s ‘Nightfall’ from “The Attic” was given evocative treatment by Jane Sullivan, in a song about toys in a Victorian attic remembering their previous life. Charles Bloom, a writer whose cabaret songs are very popular in the States, provided ‘You’re As Good As It Gets’ from “Character Breakdown” in which a fictional character finds love in the real world. It was given an outstanding performance by Daisy Maywood.

From Paul Boyd and Bernie McGill’s “The Haunting of Helena Blunden” came ‘Cut Above the Rest’, a song on the grisly subject of self-harming for Jane Horn to perform with distinction. Alexander S. Bermange is another prolific composer and lyricist. Written for his show “Thirteen Days”, set at the time of the Cuban-missile crisis, his song ‘More Than a Memory’ gave Joseph Claus the chance to show further dramatic skills in a song with driven urgency. Pippa Cleary and Jake Brunger’s ‘Big White Wedding’ from “The Great British Soap Opera” has a soap-star imagining her celebrity nuptials. It made its mark in Jamie Szynal’s performance, while Christopher Hamilton’s ‘Please Can We Leave This Behind?’ from “Over the Threshold”, is an earnest plea by a young married man seeking forgiveness for trying to seduce the woman next door. Joe Jameson hit all the right emotions. The last song was Christopher Hamilton and Susannah Pearse’s ‘I Clean Up Around Here’, from “Melody Towers”, a comic-song and one with instant appeal as sung by Alex Young, in a star performance as a mad matron telling her charges exactly what she does and expects to do.

‘The Only One You Want’ by Frank Lazarus received a notable outing by Jennifer Harraghy. It’s from a show called “2084”, in which the whole world is gay, with straight people in the minority. A young woman is grieving for her male lover who led a gay life until their secret affair. The song was highly commended by Stiles and Drewe for its simplicity. Danielle Steers, having done full justice to Sondheim’s ‘Could I Leave You?’ turned up trumps with the evocative title song from Gwyneth Herbert’s “Lovely London Town”, a show about Phyllis Pearsall, the woman who invented the A-Z map of London. Herbert is a singer-songwriter and this song won her the award for Best New Song. George Stiles and Anthony Drewe decided to split the prize-money with £500 each going to two winning songs. The other winner was ‘What Kind of Life is This, Masha?’, from the very prolific Conor Mitchell’s “The Pornographer’s Wife”, sung by Lewis Oatley as a drunken failure of a Russian ‘art’ photographer.

Lewis Oatley was named runner-up in the Sondheim Student Performer Award. The top prize went to Alex Young for her version of ‘Sunday In the Park With George’. She received the £1,000 cheque from Keith Stanley who told the young performer to spend half of it on furthering her career and the other half on something frivolous. This very entertaining afternoon also included Hannah Waddingham performing ‘Diva’, a song by Stiles and Drewe about a singer who cannot hold a note even in a bucket. Hannah also sang Sondheim’s ‘Send in the Clowns’ from “A Little Night Music” in which Hannah played Desiree in the recent London revival. Nigel Lilley’s piano accompaniment for the whole concert was exemplary.

This is a great idea that both furthers the work of new writers and keeps a well-trained eye on the always-welcome output of Stephen Sondheim. Roll on next year!

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