The 2016 Award for emerging musical theatre performers had a worthy winner, though some of the singing was patchy.

Linden Furnell took out the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award at last night’s Final, held at Sydney’s Lyric Theatre. The $20,000 cash prize, named in memory of musical theatre performer Rob Guest who died in 2008, is intended to help talented young Australian performers pursue professional development opportunities in the Australian musical theatre industry.

Linden Furnell performing at the Final of the 2016 Rob Guest Endowment Award. Photo by Robert Catto

The judges this year were choreographer/director Kelley Abbey, director Andrew Pole, musical director Guy Simpson, and guest judge Michael James Scott, who has been raising the roof as the genie in Disney’s Aladdin.

Furnell is currently playing Harry in Kinky Boots. In 2009, he left a corporate job to undertake a musical theatre degree in Singapore. His professional credits include Rent (in which he played Roger) and Violet, both at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre Co, and Songs for a New World in Melbourne for Blue Saint Productions.

The Melbourne’s East End Theatre District Artist Development Award, worth $5,000, was awarded to Genevieve Kingsford, who recently played Clara in The Light in the Piazza in Melbourne for The Life Like Company. The other finalists, selected from over 300 applicants, were Du Toit Bredenkamp and Stefanie Jones, who recently played opposite each other as Liesl and Rolf in The Sound of Music, and Hilary Cole and Matthew Predny who are both in Kinky Boots, each of whom received $1,500.

Finalists Matthew Predny, Hilary Cole, Linden Furnell, Stefanie Jones, Du Toit Bredenkamp and Genevieve Kingsford. Photo by Robert Catto

Finalists must perform two contrasting songs, one of which includes a dialogue scene. As Musical Director Kellie Dickerson remarked prior to the announcement of the winner, choosing the right song that allows you to shine in such a situation is part of the learning process. Furnell picked two songs that suited and showcased his voice – which not all the other finalists did quite so successfully. He performed Part of a Painting from Pasek and Paul’s Edges, a song cycle about coming-of-age, self-discovery and finding love, and Moving Too Fast from Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years (a show he had performed while studying in Singapore). Showing an ability to convey character, storytelling and emotion through song, he proved a worthy winner.

Matthew Predny was also impressive in well-chosen numbers, giving a touching performance of It’s Hard to Speak My Mind from Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, and showing a more comedic side in What Do I Need With Love from Thoroughly Modern Millie. Cole, who was also a finalist last year, got a rousing reception for her dramatic rendition of As Long As He Needs Me from Oliver! However, some of the singing was a little patchy and the opening number, when the six finalists sang I Hope I Get It from A Chorus Line, suggested they are stronger vocalists than dancers.

The Technical Award in Honour of Sue Nattrass went to Ash Kurrle and the Young Musical Award went to drummer Emma Ford, while the Playbill Future Prospect Award was won by semi-finalist Kieran McGrath.