Desdemonda Cathabel, a studdent at the Royal Academy of Music, is winner of the 2022 Stephen Sondheim Society Award for the student performer of the year announced on Sunday May 30 in the Sondheim Theatre – where else? She comes from Jakarta and prior to starting her current Masters course at the College had no musical training at all. She won by singing The Miller’s Son from Into the Woods and a song call I’m Ready. The 12 finalists all sang one Sondheim number and then a song by a new composer – the awards are presented in conjunction with New UK Musicals – NUM for short. The runners up were Jade Oswald, also a student at the Royal Academy, who chose On the Steps of the Palace as her Sondheim number and Ella Shepherd, a student at Bird College Conservatoire, who chose I Read. The judges were chaired by Edward Seckerson, although he did not vote. They were Theo Jamieson, Liz Robertson, Caroline Sheen, Michael D Xavier and Daniel Evans. Jenna Russell, herself a leading Sondheim performer, compered the evening and the winner received her award from Julia Mackenzie, the Society’s doyenne, who appeared in Sondheim’s Company in 1977 and then became an international star in the revue, Side By Side By Sondheim.
As always watching such shows one picks out the one you think will win. In this case there was really no contest for me once I had seen and heard Cathabel who had chosen the best Sondheim song for a start and she shone. But it seems Ella Shepherd was a close contender, but there is no faulting the decision of the judges.
The second songs were interesting in that clearly the performer thought they had chosen something to show off their strengths but wrenched from the context of shows far from familiar they were always difficult to judge. The best Sondheim songs chosen were the ones that in sense stand alone and are not, as sometimes his songs are, really speeches set to music.
Photograph: David Ovenden.
Ella Shepherd, Desdemonda Cathabel, Jade Oswald,