Take note of these names: Ben Bennett, Andrew Cook, Joshua Robson, Angela Scundi, Monica Swayne and Karla Tonkich. These six outstanding musical theatre performers are the finalists for this year's Rob Guest Endowment Award. Thirty performers competed in the semi finals on Monday before a panel of experts including Todd McKenney, Stuart Maunder and Guy Simpson, with the final six contestants being announced on Monday night. These six performers will now perform in one final gala concert event to determine the overall winner. The 2014 winner will take home $20,000 and runners up will each take home $1,500. The prize is intended to help a current artist in the musical theatre genre gain the performance experience, media training, guidance and a public image to help them become a leading artist in the Australian musical theatre industry. The experience and exposure of simply participating in this gala concert is a huge prize in itself. The gala concert attracts industry people and general public fans of musical theatre – all keen to discover who the next big names will be.
The Rob Guest Endowment Gala Concert on Monday 13th October at Sydney's Capitol Theatre will again be a highlight in the Australian musical theatre calendar. Hosted by Bert Newton, the gala concert will see each of the six finalists present two songs. Guests artists joining them include Natalie Bassingthwaighte and the cast of Wicked.
Catching up with three of the finalists today – Andrew Cook, Joshua Robson and Karla Tonkich – there was a huge amount of excitement as they shared about their experience of the semi final and preparations for the upcoming final. The one thing very evident from each of them, was the incredible talent amongst all thirty semi-finalists in the room. Robson explained he was happy with his singing audition, then happy with his dance call, but then he realised that everyone else in the room felt the same way! It was a very tough call for the judges to choose their final six.
Andrew Cook is currently playing the role of Wayne in Strictly Ballroom – the all sparkly musical about ballroom dancers … the reality of these dancing skills is not lost on Robson who is one of the French revolution students storming the barricade in Les Miserables. Robson admits he was aching after that dance call. He says his last real dancing was during the season of King Kong. Les Miserables is more about fighting, marching, storming … even dying … but not really about dancing. When competing against someone who dons the glittery sequins and sparkles of a Pan Pacific Dancesport Championship costume each performance, you have to give it your all – and clearly Robson did.
Karla Tonkich is best known to audiences as the sassy, blond bombshell, Marty, in the current production of the hit musical Grease. Tonkich says being part of the Grease company for the last year has given her the stage confidence to make it to the final six. Marty is her first role and she knows how hard she has worked to reach this point in her career and how passionate she is about her work. She loves to go out and entertain the audience, eight shows a week. She also knew the semi final was going to be tough – she was up against girls she'd gone to uni with and she knew she had to just believe in herself, work hard and give it everything.
Cook is also appreciative of the extra confidence that comes from already having a role in Strictly Ballroom. He can now walk into the audition room, and indeed onto the stage, with more confidence. As part of the critically acclaimed production of Les Miserables, Robson says he can remind himself, that although the Rob Guest Endowment Award is a big deal, he can approach it in the same way he would approach any other job.
As the finalists now look ahead to the gala concert on Monday 13th October – just two months away – they are conscious of the importance of choosing the right songs that will showcase their talents and hopefully deliver some diversity of roles. Each finalist has just two songs to perform to convince the judges. Once they've chosen their songs, it will then be a case of working on the songs, getting them "into their bodies," feeling prepared and being confident with them. Robson will have the benefit of advice from his singing teacher, Adam Lyon (King Kong.)
The other three finalists joining them in the gala concert will be Ben Bennett who was the recipient of the 2013 Rob Guest Semi-Final Encouragement Award, Angela Scundi who has recently finished touring as a Phantom in the The Rocky Horror Show and Monica Swayne, who is currently in Wicked.
Ben Bennett Angela Scundi Monica Swayne
Regardless of who wins the actual prize on the night, it's clear all six finalists are winners. Each will perform in the gala concert to theatre industry people and the general public – and if nothing else, begin to etch their actual names into the minds of the audience … rather than just being known as that guy who got the encouragement award, Wayne from Strictly Ballroom, that student guy from Les Mis, that Phantom girl from Rocky, the understudy for Glinda or Marty from Grease.
Yes, take note of these names: Ben Bennett, Andrew Cook, Joshua Robson, Angela Scundi, Monica Swayne and Karla Tonkich. No doubt you'll be hearing them a lot more in the years ahead.
Tickets for this year’s Gala Concert will go on sale on Wednesday 27 August via Ticketmaster.
Venue : Capitol Theatre, Sydney
Date : Monday 13th October 2014
Performance Time : 7:30pm Price : $59.00 – $120.00
Bookings : www.ticketmaster.com.au or 1300 558 878
*An additional transaction fee and/or a credit/debit payment processing fee may apply
Photos: Kurt Sneddon