Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Editor's Blog: The 2015 S&S Award Gala

Janie Dee & Simon Greiff
On Sunday evening (15th November) Nigel Harman took to the stage at the St James Theatre to host the 2015 S&S Award Gala which provides a platform for new musical theatre writing.

This year writers submitted a record breaking number of new musicals which went through round after round, with just three shows being selected for the gala: Here by Alex Young and Kate Marlais, After Lydia by Christine Denniston and Gwyneth Herbert plus The Last Word by Brett Sullivan.

I wouldn't have enjoyed being in the position of Nice Burns, Nikolai Foster or Kent Nicholson whose job it was to decide the overall winner. Both Here and After Lydia are interesting pieces whilst I adored the quirkiness of The Last Word - there was more to all three musicals than first met the eye.

The first act saw Scott Gilmore and Claire McKenzie's musical Forest Boy, which won the S&S Award in 2013, being presented whilst in the second half extracts from all three of this year's finalists were performed by stellar casts of West End talent including the likes of Matthew Wycliffe, Michael Matus, Rebecca Caine, West End Frame Award winner Daniel Buckley, Nathan Amzi and Hayley Flaherty who all gave commendable performances.

It was eventually announced that Here was the winner and Young and Marlais were totally speechless upon accepting their award. 

New musical theatre writing is a hot topic in the UK; Janie Dee - who announced this year's winner - took to the stage to make an interesting speech during which she highlighted musical theatre as an art form, and expressed the need of a subsidised venue to nurture new work. 

Over the past four years of West End Frame-ing there has certainly been a change of attitude towards new writing - fringe theatres have been taking more risks and producing new work, some of which has proved popular with audiences. However, whilst this is a step in the right direction, in the world of mainstream musicals Broadway has produced some smash-hit new shows whilst the West End has struggled. 

Daniel Buckley & Rebecca Caine

I'm going to be honest; over the past year I've had new Broadway musicals such as Hamilton, Something Rotten, The Bridges of Madison County and If/Then on repeat whereas I don't think many New York theatre geeks will have become obsessed with the likes of Stephen Ward, Made In Dagenham, I Can't Sing or Bend It Like Beckham.

2015 is an exciting time for new British musical theatre - praise the lord for people like Simon Greiff (who directed the gala and runs SimG Productions) and organisations such as Perfect Pitch who work tirelessly to support the next generation of writers. I admired the four musicals presented at this year's S&S Award Gala, there were lots of nice moments and some gently hypnotic melodies. Whilst there may be some potential for off-West End/fringe runs, I struggle to envisage any working commercially.

The most promising new musical theatre writing I have discovered in recent months is featured on Tim Prottey-Jones' album To Do. To Be. (which includes musical numbers from six different musicals he has written with various co-writers). I think Prottey-Jones is a major talent and should certainly look into teaming up with the likes of Simon Greiff; I would love to see one of his shows making the move from page to stage. 

Regular readers will also know that I am a huge supporter of the mastermind that is Craig Adams whose music I am obsessed with. We have the talent and hopefully it is only a matter of time until a new generation of writers revolutionise the current stigma surrounding new British musical theatre. 

Events such as the S&S Award Gala are incredibly important and I was thrilled to be in attendance at this year's presentation. It's inspiring to see how much time and effort our industry is prepared to give in order to support new work; I think we're all ready for the bar to be raised. 

Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Photo Credit: Ollie Boito Photography

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