The Rob Guest Endowment Grand Final Concert has become an annual highlight on Australia’s performing arts calendar.
On Monday night, six up-and-coming music theatre performers took to the stage at the Sydney Lyric Theatre to compete for an impressive $20,000 cash prize.
Presented by the NSW Government’s tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW, and hosted by David Campbell and Lucy Durack, the 2015 concert was one of the highest standard evenings in the event’s seven-year history.
Daniel Assetta, currently appearing in Cats, ultimately took home the top prize. The Melbourne’s East End Theatre District Artist Development Award, comprising a $5,000 cash prize for promising young music theatre talent, was awarded to Robert McDougall.
The remaining four finalists – Blake Appelqvist, Hilary Cole, Georgina Hopson and Ashleigh Rubenach – all ensured this was about as close a contest as was conceivably possible. The unenviable task of picking award winners went to Kelley Abbey, Peter Casey and Gale Edwards.
Join Theatre People as we take you through an incredible evening of entertainment! All photos are courtesy of Robert Catto.
Kicking off the evening, all six 2015 finalists joined to deliver an excellent performance of the Stephen Schwartz classic ‘Magic to do’, the opening number of Pippin (a musical Theatre People hopes we’ll being seeing on our shores again some time soon!)
It’s never an easy ask to be first cab off the rank in a contest of this kind. But if there was one performer up to the task, it was Georgina Hopson, who began the competition with a sensational performance of ‘If I loved you’ from Carousel. Hopson’s performance set an extremely high bar for the rest of the evening.
Up next was Robert McDougall, showing us exactly why he belonged in the final six with his performance of ‘New words’ from Maury Yeston and David Hahn’s 1988 musical, In the beginning.
His performance at last year’s Rob Guest Endowment Grand Final Concert floored Theatre People. 2014 grand prize winner, Josh Robson, was back to remind us of his vocal power with ‘Why God Why?’, taken from Schönberg and Boublil’s classic tale of doomed love during the Vietnam War, Miss Saigon.
Hilary Cole was contestant number three, giving us a wonderful performance of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘I remember’, taken from his 1966 collaboration with James Goldman, Evening Primrose.
He’s currently treading the boards at the Capitol Theatre as Rum Tum Tugger in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest production of Cats. Showing a more human side to audiences, he packed a punch with ‘Goodbye’, a show-stopping number from 2011 Tony Award-winning musical, Catch me if you can.
Eight times a week, they’re wowing audiences performing Tim Minchin’s extraordinary numbers in the highly-acclaimed Matilda: The Musical. Tonight, the cast of that show gave up their night off to perform ‘Love bring me some water’ from LOVEBiTES.
Back into the competition, and Ashleigh Rubenach throws some Rodgers and Hammerstein into the mix with her excellent rendition of ‘A Wonderful Guy’ from South Pacific.
The Pulitzer prize-winning Next to normal is jam-packed with outstanding numbers care of Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey. Blake Appelqvist presented one of its highlights, ‘I’ve been’, in a moving performance that fittingly capped off the first half of the competition.
Over the past seven years, Jemma Rix has proved to audiences in Australia and across Asia that she’s a bona-fide powerhouse performer. In Wicked, she defied gravity as well as any performer who’s gone green in any production of the musical across the world. Last year, her performance of ‘Heroes Live Forever’ at the Melbourne Cup wowed Australia once again. And here, she was back to remind us just how impressive that performance really was!
She’s a world-class performer and opened the second half of the concert with a performance that demonstrated why she’s one of the finest artists this country has to offer. Caroline O’Connor left us gobsmacked with ‘My Man’ from Funny Girl.
Blake Appelqvist’s second performance of the night launched us back into the competition and showed his versatility as a performer. It was a thoroughly entertaining rendition of Thoroughly Modern Millie’s ‘What do I need with love’.
Ashleigh Rubenach returned to the stage to deliver a stunning vocal performance of one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s greatest pieces – ‘Wishing you were somehow here again’ from Phantom of the Opera.
Sondheim got his second look in in this evening’s set list, as Robert McDougall upped the ante with a compelling and highly theatrical performance of ‘Epiphany’ from Sweeney Todd.
The audience was fortunate enough to witness a second performance from Jemma Rix for the evening. This time, she was joined by co-star Rob Mills for ‘Here Right Now’, taken from a musical that will have its Australian premiere in January, Ghost. If this performance was anything to go by, Ghost is sure to be a highlight of 2016!
For a few minutes, Daniel Assetta completely embodied Huey Calhoun and gave us a practically perfect performance of ‘Memphis lives in me’, taken from 2010 Tony Award-winning best musical, Memphis.
Georgina Hopson reminded us precisely how much this country needs a first-class production of Jekyll and Hyde. Her stellar performance of ‘Someone like you’ took her to even greater heights than those she reached earlier in the evening.
Two on the Aisle is a musical revue that dates back to 1951, and a work with which a considerable number of concert attendees would’ve had no familiarity. But Hilary Cole’s energetic, hilarious and highly entertaining airing of ‘If you hadn’t but you did’ was a remarkably strong finish to a hotly-contested competition.
As the judging panel left the auditorium to commence their tough deliberations, 2009 Australia’s Got Talent winner, Mark Vincent, took to the stage to perform ‘Till I hear you sing’ from Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies.
In a fitting tribute to the man of the moment, host Lucy Durack performed alongside a recording of Rob Guest to the 1991 Disney hit, ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
And the winner is….Daniel Assetta! Something tells us there’ll be an especially excited Jellicle cat on stage at the Capitol Theatre this week! Assetta’s co-stars from Cats then arrived on stage to close the evening with William Finn’s ‘Heart and music’ from the 1998 Off-Broadway musical, A New Brain.
And just like that, it was all over again for another year. Congratulations to all participants in 2015. We at Theatre People can’t wait to see what’s in store in 2016!