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Stiles and Drewe Best New Song Prize Concert 2020 – YouTube

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Musical Director: Steve Ridley

From its start in 2008, the annual songwriting competition launched by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, has celebrated the best of songwriting talent. With this year’s judging panel including Dan Gillespie-Sells (Everybody’s Talking about Jamie) and Olivier-Award-nominated writing team Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss (Six the Musical), the £1,000 First Prize not only provides much needed funds; it can be a springboard to the next stage of a songwriter’s career.

In a year where projects and shows have been put on hold – indefinitely, some maybe permanently – never has it felt more important to look at what’s being written right now. With over 160 entries, the 15-song shortlist was performed online. Stiles and Drewe utilised their impressive contacts list, assembling notables of musical theatre: Louise Dearman, Tyrone Huntley and Zizi Strallen to name a few.

What was noticeable about this shortlist is that marginalised voices are continuing to come through. The nominated song Broken Guitar from The Phase (written by Meg McGrady and Zoe Morris) explores trans issues, directly challenging what musicals have and should be covering. Winning the prize for Vision, Voice and Potential, Broken Guitar reiterates that while many questions of identity and belonging remain unanswered, the emotional frankness with which they are considered, indicates the possibilities a new generation can offer.

The diversity within the shortlist includes entries from across the musical theatre spectrum, with two of the evening’s best songs being crowd-pleasing belters. I’m Your Guy (written by Amir Shoenfeld and Matthew Greene) – telling the unlikely buddy story of a man and a robot – hits you from the very first note. Accompanied by just a piano, Tyrone Huntley incorporates the song’s classic Broadway hook with contemporary lyrics. His bright, effervescent charm, of course, convinces any naysayers.

Creativity gets amped up with Rob Green and Nic Harvey’s song You Got a Problem. Taken from Hoarding: A Musical, the main character Nell’s hoarding habit has become so chronic, her missing cat is found squashed under a pile of Vogue magazines. Green and Harvey imagine what Nell’s cat would have to say about its unglamorous demise. The resulting song is a smash. Performed by Marisha Wallace, the song’s driving bass line and bluesy feel allow Wallace to show off some serious technical prowess. It’s songs like these that persuade anyone who thinks they’re not a ‘musicals person’.

It is in this direction that the judging panel headed, awarding their Runner Up prize to My First Ex-Boyfriend. From the musical Son of Rambow, and writing team Miranda Cooper, Richard Marsh and Nick Coler, this song is recognisably drafted in from the pop world. With Cooper and Coler’s substantial writing credits for Kylie and Girls Aloud, the team transform a break-up song into a Top 10 hit. An alternative to jukebox musicals, and possessing a definite John Hughes / Breakfast Club vibe, the song pursues an interesting idea of how musical genres can merge to create a new sound.

With the concert simply but smartly put together using live and pre-recorded material, it allows the viewer to see just what is being produced, and where future trends in musical theatre will emerge. In awarding new talent, we are reminded that theatre continues to grow and evolve, even when the theatres themselves remain dark. It’s a final note of optimism, and a much needed one.

Available here to stream 

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