Milly Willows wins the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year 2023 competition

Milly Willows from Swansea, in her third year at Italia Conti, beat off stiff competition to be named the Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year.

Singing ‘The Worst Pies in London’ from ‘Sweeney Todd’, and  ‘A Story of My Own’ from Michael Webborn and Daniel Finn’s The Clockmaker’s Daughter, she was crowned last night at the end of a hotly contested West End sing-off final at the Sondheim Theatre.

Milly was presented with the £1,000 first prize by Sondheim legend, Julia Mckenzie, and will now headline her own Sondheim-infused cabaret in London.

Runner up  was The Royal Academy of Music’s Emily Botnen, who scooped £500  with ‘Everybody Loves Louis’ (from ‘Sunday in the Park With George’) coupled with ‘Watchin’ the Door’ by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green.

Judges’ chair Edward Seckerson singled out RAM’s Icelandic entrant Pétur Svavarsson and Guildford School of Acting’s Harry Warburton for honourable mentions.

The 12 finalists were tasked with singing a Sondheim song of their choice and a song submitted by New UK Musicals.

Craig Glenday, Chair of The Stephen Sondheim Society, said: “I’m so proud of what all of these young performers achieved on the Sondheim stage in the Final. The talent on offer was exceptional. I know the judges struggled to find fault with any of the Sondheim performances. But it’s often the second song that nails it for the judges. Milly’s performance had the audience in fits of laughter with her characterful performance of ‘Worst Pies’ but she wisely chose to balance this with a song with a completely different vibe, really showcasing her range and versatility as a performer. To be fair, all of the finalists this year did exactly this, but the contrast between Milly’s two songs, and simply the polish of her performance, sealed the deal. A worthy winner!”

The final was hosted by Alex Young, whose Sondheim credentials include Young Sally in the recent National Theatre cast of ‘Follies’, The Baker’s Wife in Terry Gilliam’s ‘Into The Woods’ at the Theatre Royal Bath and Cora Hoover Hooper in ‘Anyone Can Whistle’ at Southwark Playhouse. 

Alex is a former winner of the event, taking home the SSSSPOTY prize in 2010 after her hilarious rendition of ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ from the musical of the same name.

This year, The Stephen Sondheim Society (a charitable trust founded in 1993) asked for the first round of auditions to be made via video. More than 250 submissions were received, 80 of which qualified for a live, in-person audition with critic and broadcaster Edward Seckerson (Chair of the Judges) and Musical Director Nigel Lilley (‘Follies’, National Theatre; ‘Fun Home’, Young Vic). 12 finalists were selected, with 2 students held in reserve.

The 12 finalists:

Sara Bartos (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland)

Emily Botnen (Royal Academy of Music)

Lucy Carter (Royal Academy of Music)

Harry Lake (Guildford School of Acting)

Josh Lewindon (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)

Ritesh Manugula (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)

Tom O’Kelly (Royal Academy of Music)

Emily Ridge (Leeds Conservatoire)

Pétur Svavarsson (Royal Academy of Music)

Isobel Twist (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)

Harry Warburton (Guildford School of Acting)

Milly Willows (Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts)

The Stephen Sondheim Society Trustees and judges also agreed to select two reserves: El Haq Latief (Royal Academy of Music) & Thom Foster (The Hammond School)

📷 Main photo: Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer of the Year winner Milly Willows with Julia McKenzie photo by David Ovenden

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