Ella Shepherd Desmonda Cathabel Jade Oswald

Desmonda Cathabel wins the 2022 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year competition

Desmonda Cathabel has one the 14th annual Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2022 competition.

Desmonda Cathabel from Jakarta, Indonesia, studying at the Royal Academy of Music, has beaten off stiff competition from 11 other talented young singers to be named the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year.

She was crowned last night at the end of a hotly contested West End sing-off final – the first since the passing of legendary composer Stephen Sondheim – fittingly, in the Sondheim Theatre.

Runner Up was Ella Shepherd from Bird College Conservatoire, with a third prize awarded to Jade Oswald, also training at the Royal Academy of Music

This year, The Stephen Sondheim Society (a charitable trust founded in 1993) elected to open the field up to every student of musical theatre, and asked for auditions to be made via video. 

More than 350 submissions were received, and the final 12, plus 3 reserves, were selected by critic and broadcaster Edward Seckerson (Chair of the Judges) who said the standard in the final this year was the highest ever, and Musical Director Nigel Lilley. 

Desmonda wins £1,000, the chance to headline her own Sondheim-infused cabaret in London and she will also be the subject of a Comparing Notes intimate conversation and performance evening at the Crazy Coqs in London, hosted by Edward Seckerson. The runner-up was awarded £500 and the third prize winner collected £250.

Each of the 12 finalists had to sing a Sonheim song of their choice and a new song from new or up and coming composters and lyricists, curated by New UK Musicals. Desmonda sang ‘The Miller’s Son’ from Sondheim’s ‘Into the Woods’ and ‘I’m Ready’ by Eamonn O’Dwyer from his musical, ‘The Snow Queen’

Desmonda grew up in Indonesia, where she says there is no musical theatre training, before travelling to London to study for her current Masters at the Royal Academy of Music. 

Desmonda said: “As someone coming from a faraway country to pursue an impossible dream of musical theatre and having English as a second language, I used to be extremely doubtful that I had what it takes to do it. But being selected to this final, doing Sondheim’s work – which is famously hard to do – I am now more confident that I’m good enough to do what I love to do and be able to convey the stories that I want to convey through my performance.”

The students performed before a panel of highly respected judges including Daniel Evans, Theo Jamieson, Caroline Sheen, Liz Robertson and Michael D. Xavier. 

The Prize Giving was led by Julia McKenzie, a founding patron of The Stephen Sondheim Society and one of the most celebrated interpreters of Sondheim’s work.

Jenna Russell returned as host, having previously anchored the Final in 2013. The Final was directed by Hannah Chissick with musical direction by Nigel Lilley.

The competition has an impressive track record for identifying young talent. Previous finalists have included Cynthia Erivo, Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Shaq Taylor, and winners included Alex Young, Taron Egerton, Turlough Convery, Erin Doherty and, most recently, Stuart Thompson (Most Promising Newcomer, Critics Circle Theatre Awards, for ‘Spring Awakening’ at the Almeida).

📷 Main photo: Desmonda Cathabel (centre) with Runner Up Ella Shepherd (Left) and 3rd placed Jade Oswald photo by David Ovenden

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