Stephen Sondheim Society

Student Performer of the Year
Sondheim Theatre, London
Hosted by Bonnie Langford
Musical director: Nigel Lilley
Assistant musical director: John Haslam
Finalists: Holly Adams, Brooke Bazarian, Oliver Halford, Harrison Langham, Katie Leach, Madeleine Morgan, Rowen Newsome, Tumi Olufawo, Thomas Oxley, Daisy Pearson, Gavin Rasmussen, Josh Rosewood.



The SSSSPOTY, as it is known in Sondheim circles, technically is a competition, but, like Bonnie Langford, compere of this year’s 16th edition, you may prefer to see it as a celebration.

The format has added drama in that, cruelly, there is only one winner, but every one of the 12 gala finalists competing against each other is already a celebration of the talent and nerves of steel that allowed them to rise to the top of 330 entries.

It also celebrates, not just the supreme talent of Sondheim that has inspired the contenders, but his legacy in the form of contemporary UK musicals: as well as demonstrating their ability to deliver a Sondheim, the 12 finalists sang a song from the country’s recent catalogue.

For the Sondheim Society, if you can handle a Sondheim, with all its intelligence, satire and emotional and musical complexity, you can handle almost anything.  The stand-out performers of a very strong field were duly those who made arguably the boldest selections from the rest of the modern musical repertoire.

Outright winner Madeleine Morgan, a student of the Royal College of Music, showed the extent of her range in “Running on Empty” by Gus Gowland, while runner-up Gavin Rasmussen (LAMDA) brought the house down with his riotous rendition of “Tartarus” by Luke Bateman and Michael Conley after showing us his relatively serious side with Sondheim’s “Marry Me A Little”.

Oliver Halford (Emil Dale Academy), who sang the sensitive, optimistic, original “Infinity” by Josh Sneesby and Sarah Middleton, was commended.

I would also add high praise for Tumi Olafawo (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School) for her hilarious and defiant “Press Hash to Re-record” by Alex James Ellison, but then again, all the performances were a glorious reminder of the huge potential of youth.

To quote Langford again, who was once in their shoes with all her career stretching before her, they were enough to make anyone no longer young deeply jealous.

Barbara Lewis.