Stephen Sondheim dies aged 91: Tributes for influential composer-lyricist behind legendary Broadway shows

Stephen Sondheim, the songwriter who reshaped the american musical theatre within the 2nd half of the twentieth century with his clever, intricately rhymed lyrics, his use of evocative melodies and his willingness to tackle peculiar topics, has died. He was 91.

Sondheim has been hailed as considered one of theatre’s “biggest geniuses”.

His demise was once introduced via his Texas-primarily based attorney and family member, Richard Pappas, who instructed The Brand New York Instances the composer died abruptly on Friday at his house in Roxbury, Connecticut. 

Sondheim prompted a few generations of theatre songwriters, specifically with such landmark musicals as Corporate Follies and Sweeney Todd, which are considered amongst his best possible paintings. His most renowned ballad, Ship within the Clowns, has been recorded hundreds of occasions, together with via Frank Sinatra.

Six of Sondheim’s musicals received Tony Awards for perfect ranking and he received a Pulitzer Prize for Sunday within the Park.

The composer also won an Academy Award for the track Faster or Later from the movie Dick Tracy plus 5 Olivier Awards and used to be offered the Presidential Medal of Honour.

President Barack Obama presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to composer Stephen Sondheim during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in 2015 President Barack Obama offered the Presidential Medal of Freedom to composer Stephen Sondheim throughout a rite within the East Room of the White House in 2015 Credit Score: Evan Vucci/AP

Tributes pour in

Phantom of the Opera writer Andrew Lloyd Webber was once among those who paid tribute, writing: “Farewell Steve, the musical theatre massive of our times, an notion not only to 2 but to three generations.

“Your contribution to theatre won’t ever be equalled.”

Farewell Steve, the musical theatre massive of our times, an inspiration not only to 2 but to a few generations. Your contribution to theatre will never be equalled. – ALW

— Andrew Lloyd Webber (@OfficialALW) November 26, 2021

British theatrical producer Sir Cameron Waterproof Coat, who named a venue after Sondheim in past due 2019, mentioned: “The theatre has lost considered one of its greatest geniuses and the sector has lost considered one of its largest and most original writers.

“Sadly, there’s now an incredible in the sky.

“but the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim will nonetheless be here as his legendary songs and displays shall be performed for ever extra.

“Good-Bye vintage loved one and thanks from all of us.”

Will & Grace megastar Eric McCormack said Sondheim was a genius:

A genius. Was Once privileged to work with him once. Luckily, he’d written all the words… cuz i was pretty much speechless the whole time. thank you, Stephen, for all you’ve given us. RIP #StephenSondheim

— Eric McCormack (@EricMcCormack) November 27, 2021

English Singer Elaine Paige wrote: “Devastated to hear considered one of probably the most essential musical theatre giants of our era, Stephen Sondheim, has died.

“i was fortunate enough to have carried out in two of his shows, Follies in Broadway and Sweeney Todd, and in addition have a track co-written via him for my 50th anniversary.

“RIP expensive guy.”

American actress Sandra Bernhard tweeted her thanks for Sondheim’s brilliance:

#StephenSondheim who captured the spirit of humanity through his brilliant song has taken his depart thank you for pushing the limits of theatre for decades

— Sandra Bernhard (@SandraBernhard) November 27, 2021

‘Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre?’

Sondheim’s track and lyrics gave his presentations a depressing, dramatic side, whereas earlier than him, the dominant tone of musicals was once frothy and comedian. 

He was on occasion criticised as a composer of unhummable songs, a badge that did not trouble Sondheim. 

Frank Sinatra, who had a success with Sondheim’s Send in the Clowns, once complained: “He could make me so much happier if he’d write extra songs for saloon singers like me.”

To theatre lovers, Sondheim’s sophistication and brilliance made him an icon. A Broadway theatre was named after him. A New York magazine duvet asked “Is Sondheim God?” The Parent once introduced this question: “Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre?”

Stephen Sondheim in 1976 Stephen Sondheim in 1976 Credit: R. Jones/Hulton Archive

A splendid wordsmith – and an avid player of phrase video games – Sondheim’s joy of language shone thru. “the other of left is right/the other of right is inaccurate/So any person who is left is inaccurate, right?” he wrote in Any Individual Can Whistle. In Company, he penned the traces: “good things get better/Dangerous will get worse/Wait – I Feel I supposed that during reverse.”

Taught via no much less a genius than Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim driven the musical into a darker, richer and extra highbrow position. “for those who call to mind a theatre lyric as a brief tale, as I do, then each line has the burden of a paragraph,” he wrote in his 2010 e-book, Completing the Hat, the primary extent of his choice of lyrics and comments.

Early in his occupation, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for 2 displays thought to be to be classics of the yank degree, West Aspect Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959). West Aspect Story, with tune via Leonard Bernstein, transplanted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the streets and gangs of recent-day The Big Apple. Gypsy, with track by means of Jule Styne, advised the behind the scenes tale of the ultimate degree mom and the daughter who grew as much as be Gypsy Rose Lee.

Solitary childhood led to Hammerstein as mentor and loved one

Sondheim used to be born on March 22, 1930, into a rich family, the only son of dress manufacturer Herbert Sondheim and Helen Fox Sondheim. At 10, his parents divorced and Sondheim’s mother purchased a house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, the place one in every of their Bucks County neighbours used to be lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, whose son, James, was once Sondheim’s roommate at boarding college. It was once Oscar Hammerstein who turned into the younger guy’s skilled mentor and a fair loved one.

He had a solitary adolescence, one in which involved verbal abuse from his cold mom. He received a letter in his 40s from her telling him that she regretted giving start to him. He persevered to make stronger her financially and to look her now and again however didn’t attend her funeral.

Sondheim attended Williams School in Massachusetts, where he majored in tune. After graduation, he received a two-year fellowship to study with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt.

One Of Sondheim’s first jobs was once writing scripts for the television display Topper, which ran for 2 years (1953-1955). At The related time, Sondheim wrote his first musical, Saturday Evening, the tale of a bunch of teenagers in Brooklyn in 1920s. It used to be to have opened on Broadway in 1955, but its producer died simply because the musical was once approximately to go into production, and the show was scrapped. Saturday Evening finally arrived in Big Apple in 1997 in a small, off-Broadway production.

Sondheim wrote occasionally for the flicks. He collaborated with actor Anthony Perkins on the script for the 1973 homicide mystery The Last of Sheila, and but even so his paintings on Dick Tracy (1990), wrote ratings for such films as Alain Resnais’ Stavisky (1974) and Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981).

Sondheim displays proceed to polish on Broadway

Over the years, there were many Broadway revivals of Sondheim shows, especially Gypsy, which had reincarnations starring Angela Lansbury (1974), Tyne Daly (1989) and Peters (2003). However there additionally were productions of A Humorous Factor, one with Phil Silvers in 1972 and every other starring Nathan Lane in 1996; Into the Woods with Vanessa Williams in 2002; or even of Sondheim’s much less a success displays comparable to Assassins and Pacific Overtures, each in 2004. Sweeney Todd has been produced in opera houses round the sector. A reimagined West Aspect Tale opened on Broadway in 2020 and a scrambled Corporate opened on Broadway in 2021 with the genders of the actors switched.

Sondheim’s songs had been used widely in revues, the most efficient-identified being Side through Side by way of Sondheim (1976) on Broadway and Putting It In Combination, off-Broadway with Julie Andrews in 1992 and on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1999. The Brand New York Philharmonic put on a star-studded Corporate in 2011 with Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert. Tunes from his musicals have in recent times popped up in all places from Marriage Story to The Morning Display.

A HBO documentary directed by Lapine, Six by Sondheim, aired in 2013 and revealed that he preferred to compose lying down and sometimes enjoyed a cocktail to chill out as he wrote. He even discovered that he truly simplest fell in love after reaching 60, first with the dramatist Peter Jones after which in his final years with Jeff Romley.

In September 2010, the Henry Miller Theatre was once renamed the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. “I Am deeply embarrassed. I’m pleased, but deeply embarrassed,” he stated as the sun fell over dozens of clapping admirers in Occasions Square. Then he discovered his perfectionist streak: “I Have at all times hated my last name. It simply doesn’t sing.”

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