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Hamilton actor among stars of tomorrow celebrated at The Stage Debut Awards 2017

Miriam-Teak Lee, winner of best actress in a musical at The Stage Debut Awards. Photo: Alex Brenner
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Hamilton cast member Miriam-Teak Lee and the Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells were among the inaugural winners of The Stage Debut Awards.

The Stage Debut Awards 2017, which were announced at a ceremony in London on September 17, celebrate actors and creatives who have made their professional theatre debuts in the past year.

Lee, who is soon to appear in the West End production of Hamilton, won best actress in a musical for On the Town at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in London, while the Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells won best composer for the musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.

Speaking to The Stage after collecting her award, Lee said: “When you first come into the industry you might have something that goes quite well, that you feel is quite great, but that goes unnoticed, and that may force you into thinking you’re not good enough. To have something like this is such a good push to newcomers, it’s incredible.”

Best actress in a play went to Grace Molony for her performance in The Country Girls at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester, and Abraham Popoola was awarded the best actor in a play award for Othello at Tobacco Factory Theatres in Bristol.

Samuel Thomas won best actor in a musical for his debut performance in Allegro at Southwark Playhouse in London, beating Adam J Bernard from Dreamgirls and Ben Hunter from The Girls.

In the Joe Allen Best West End Debut Award, which was the only category put to a public vote, newcomer Andrew Polec won over well-known figures including Amber Riley, John Boyega and Audra McDonald. While other categories recognise talent making their full professional debuts, in this category anyone making a West End debut was eligible.

The awards were hosted by actor and winner of ITV’s Superstar Ben Forster, who until recently led the cast of The Phantom of the Opera, while presenters at the awards included National Theatre director Rufus Norris, Olivier and Tony award-winning director Michael Grandage, and Olivier award-winning actor Noma Dumezweni.

Norris said it was “crucial” to support talent at the earliest stages.

“This industry is massively competitive, I don’t think there are any clear pathways. The ways that I made it happen for me are not ways that a director could find a way through now. It’s completely different, so all of these young people are having to chart their own fortunes. It’s very competitive, it’s financially almost impossible, so I think we should do anything that we can to encourage them to stay within the industry and to keep ploughing through it.”

Dumezweni added: “We all remember that first moment, and this is what that thing is for me. We’ve all had beginnings. [The awards are] so vast around the country as well, and that’s what I’m really really happy about.”

Other winners at The Stage Debut Awards 2017 included the Bruntwood award-winning playwright Katherine Soper for Wish List at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and the Royal Court in London, and director Lekan Lawal for Betrayal at Derby Theatre. Rosie Elnile was awarded best designer for The Convert at the Gate Theatre in London.

Lawal said he was particularly proud to win the award for a production staged outside London.

“There’s a lot of talk about how London-centric theatre can be in terms of funding, in terms of where people seek opportunity, and if this makes a few people go a bit further out to get their first job, that’s great,” he said.

Alistair Smith, editor of The Stage and member of the judging panel, said: “The Stage Debut Awards celebrate new theatre talent, shining the spotlight on the stars of tomorrow.

“Our list of nominees showcases a wealth of talent from across the UK, with winners recognised for work produced in Bristol, Chichester, London, Derby, Sheffield and Manchester. Congratulations to them all.”

He added: “It will be great to watch these breakthrough stars become even better known, with many surely destined to become household names. Some are already being widely recognised – Dan Gillespie Sells is preparing for the West End transfer of his musical, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, and Miriam-Teak Lee will feature in the forthcoming West End production of Hamilton.”

The Stage Debut Awards ceremony also included a presentation for the Alan Bates Award for best drama school graduate. It was presented to Georgia Frost by the Actors Centre chairman Paul Clayton.

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