The Stephen Sondheim Society and Mercury Musical Developments have announced the winners of the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year and Stiles + Drewe Prize. The winners were revealed at the tenth anniversary West End Gala held at the Novello Theatre which was hosted by star of stage and screen Julian Ovenden.
Courtney Bowman is this year’s Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year, performing ‘Me and My Town’ from Sondheim’s musical Anyone Can Whistle and ‘The Driving Lesson’ from the musical Heart of Winter written by Tim Connor.
Bowman was selected out of 12 finalists who qualified from the UK’s many musical theatre courses and has been awarded a £1,000 first prize. Eleanor Jackson was named runner-up for performances of Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park With George’ from and ‘More to Life’ by James Burn.
In addition to this Tim Connor won the Stiles + Drewe Prize for Best New Song for ‘Back to School’ from Heart of Winter. This prize recognises an outstanding song from a new musical, and the winner receives a prize of £1,000 to put towards developing their work.
This year also marked the expansion of the Stiles + Drewe Prize to include their inaugural Mentorship Award, supported by Music Theatre International (Europe).
Darren Clark and Rhys Jennings won the Mentorship Award with the new musical The Wicker Husband. They will receive 12 months of mentorship and support, benefiting from monthly writers’ labs, a one-week writing retreat, and two panel-led progress labs, with the year culminating in an industry showcase.
Stiles and Drewe won the first Vivian Ellis Prize in 1985 for their musical Just So, which introduced them to the major heavyweights of the musical theatre world and made an enormous impact at the beginning of their careers. The MTI Stiles + Drewe Mentorship Award aims to give a similar kick-start to a new generation of musical theatre writing talent.
The winners were selected by a panel of judges including Don Black, Jason Carr, Anne Reid, Thea Sharrock, Paul Hart, Lotte Wakeham, Sondheim Society patron Julia McKenzie and Olivier Award-nominated actress Sophie-Louise Dann. The student performer judging panel was chaired by writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson.
The annual gala is co-produced by The Stephen Sondhiem Society and Mercury Musical Developments and was this year directed by Chris Hocking, with musical direction by Mark Warman.
The Stephen Sondheim Society chairman Craig Glenday said: “What a tremendous way to mark our tenth anniversary! Courtney totally understood the performance aspect of the competition and delivered both of her songs with great style. She received the loudest applause of the afternoon and is a deserving winner.”
Executive director of MMD Victoria Saxton added: “The judges were faced with an incredibly difficult decision. However, Tim Connor’s ‘Back to School’ was the stand-out for its specific and witty lyrics that fully brought the character and situation to life, a skill that’s hard for lyricists to master.”
Courtney Bowman is 21 years old and grew up in Boston, Lincolnshire. She is currently in her final term at the Guildford School of Acting. She has just finished playing the role of Billie in Our House at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Leaf’s Mom/Jesus in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and Clara in Ghost the Musical. In her second year, she played the role of Cora Hoover Hooper in Anyone Can Whistle.
Tim Connor’s credits include Heart of Winter (story/dramaturgy by Lia Buddle) and The Stationmaster (book by Susannah Pearse), produced by Aria Entertainment at the Tristan Bates Theatre in October 2015. His ballad, ‘The Little Match Girl’ was sung by Olivier Award-winner Janie Dee on BBC Radio’s Loose Ends. Last year, Connor saved up to make a studio album of Heart of Winter, recorded by Sondheim Prize-winner Corrine Priest.
The full list of the 12 finalist student performers:
Abigail Fitzgerald (22) – Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts
Adam Small (22) – Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
Ashley Reyes (20) – LAMDA
Callum McGuire (23) – Oxford School of Drama
Courtney Bowman (21) – GSA University of Surrey
Dafydd Gape (23) – Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama
Edward Laurenson (27) – Guildhall School of Music & Drama
Eleanor Jackson (24) – Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Emily Day (20) – Performance Preparation Academy
Kirsty Ingram (20) – Arts Educational Schools
Lauren Drew (23) – Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
Tabitha Tingey (22) – The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
The full list of the 12 finalists for the Stiles + and Drewe Best New Song Prize:
‘How Did I Get Here?’ by Rowland Braché & Richard Voyce
‘Wallpaper Girl’ by Rebecca Applin & Susannah Pearse
‘Rivets’ by David Perkins and Dominic & Joe Male
‘Little Wooden Horse’ by Chris Bush & Matt Winkworth
‘What I’m After’ by Roxanne Lamendola (add. music and lyrics by China Doll, Leah Fogo; arrangement, Scott Stait)
‘Back to School’ by Tim Connor
‘The Driving Lesson’ by Tim Connor
‘Fly’ by Spencer & Shenelle William
‘My Wicker Man’ by Darren Clark
‘More to Life’ by James Burn
’Watchin’ the Door’ by Caroline Wigmore
’Echoes’ by Craig Adams & Andrew Doyle