Stephen Sondheim, the songwriter who reshaped the American musical theatre within the second half of the 20th century together with his clever, intricately rhymed lyrics, his use of evocative melodies and his willingness to sort out uncommon topics, has died. He was 91.
Sondheim’s demise was introduced by Rick Miramontez, president of DKC/O&M. Sondheim’s Texas-based lawyer, Rick Pappas, advised The New York Occasions the composer died Friday at his residence in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Sondheim influenced a number of generations of theatre songwriters, significantly with such landmark musicals as Firm, Follies and Sweeney Todd, that are thought-about amongst his greatest work. His most well-known ballad, ‘Ship within the Clowns,’ has been recorded lots of of occasions, together with by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.
The artist refused to repeat himself, discovering inspiration for his exhibits in such numerous topics as an Ingmar Bergman film (A Little Evening Music), the opening of Japan to the West (Pacific Overtures), French painter Georges Seurat (Sunday within the Park With George), Grimm’s fairy tales (Into the Woods) and even the killers of American presidents (Assassins), amongst others.
Tributes rapidly flooded social media as performers and writers alike saluted an enormous of the theatre. “We shall be singing your songs forever,” wrote Lea Salonga. Aaron Tveit wrote: “We are so lucky to have what you’ve given the world.”
“The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers. Sadly, there is now a giant in the sky,” producer Cameron Waterproof coat wrote in tribute. Music supervisor, arranger and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire tweeted: “For those of us who love new musical theater: we live in a world that Sondheim built.”
Six of Sondheim’s musicals received Tony Awards for greatest rating, and he additionally acquired a Pulitzer Prize (‘Sunday within the Park’), an Academy Award (for the music ‘Sooner or Later’ from the movie Dick Tracy), 5 Olivier Awards and the Presidential Medal of Honour. In 2008, he acquired a Tony Award for lifetime achievement.
Sondheim’s music and lyrics gave his exhibits a darkish, dramatic edge, whereas earlier than him, the dominant tone of musicals was frothy and comedian. He was generally criticised as a composer of unhummable songs, a badge that didn’t trouble Sondheim. Frank Sinatra, who had a success with Sondheim’s ‘Ship within the Clowns,’ as soon as complained: “He could make me a lot happier if he’d write more songs for saloon singers like me.”
To theatre followers, Sondheim’s sophistication and brilliance made him an icon. A Broadway theatre was named after him. A New York journal cowl requested “Is Sondheim God?” The Guardian newspaper as soon as supplied this query: “Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre?”
A supreme wordsmith — and an avid participant of phrase video games — Sondheim’s pleasure of language shone by way of. “The opposite of left is right/The opposite of right is wrong/So anyone who’s left is wrong, right?” he wrote in ‘Anybody Can Whistle.’ In ‘Firm,’ he penned the strains: “Good things get better/Bad gets worse/Wait — I think I meant that in reverse.”
He supplied the three rules mandatory for a songwriter in his first quantity of collected lyrics — Content material Dictates Kind, Much less Is Extra, and God Is within the Particulars. All these truisms, he wrote, have been “in the service of Clarity, without which nothing else matters.” Collectively they led to gorgeous strains like: “It’s a very short road from the pinch and the punch to the paunch and the pouch and the pension.”
Taught by no much less a genius than Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim pushed the musical right into a darker, richer and extra mental place. “If you think of a theater lyric as a short story, as I do, then every line has the weight of a paragraph,” he wrote in his 2010 e-book, Ending the Hat, the primary quantity of his assortment of lyrics and feedback.
Early in his profession, Sondheim wrote the lyrics for 2 exhibits thought-about to be classics of the American stage, West Facet Story (1957) and Gypsy (1959). West Facet Story, with music by Leonard Bernstein, transplanted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the streets and gangs of modern-day New York. Gypsy, with music by Jule Styne, advised the backstage story of the last word stage mom and the daughter who grew as much as be Gypsy Rose Lee.
It was not till 1962 that Sondheim wrote each music and lyrics for a Broadway present, and it turned out to be a smash — the bawdy A Humorous Factor Occurred on the Strategy to the Discussion board, starring Zero Mostel as a wily slave in historic Rome craving to be free.
But his subsequent present, Anybody Can Whistle (1964), flopped, working solely 9 performances however reaching cult standing after its solid recording was launched. Sondheim’s 1965 lyric collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers — ‘Do I Hear a Waltz?’ — additionally turned out to be problematic. The musical, based mostly on the play The Time of the Cuckoo, ran for six months however was an sad expertise for each males, who didn’t get alongside.
It was Firm, which opened on Broadway in April 1970, that cemented Sondheim’s popularity. The episodic adventures of a bachelor (performed by Dean Jones) with an incapacity to decide to a relationship was hailed as capturing the obsessive nature of striving, self-centred New Yorkers. The present, produced and directed by Hal Prince, received Sondheim his first Tony for greatest rating. The Women Who Lunch grew to become a regular for Elaine Stritch.
The next yr, Sondheim wrote the rating for Follies, a take a look at the shattered hopes and disillusioned goals of girls who had appeared in lavish Ziegfeld-style revues. The music and lyrics paid homage to nice composers of the previous akin to Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and the Gershwins.
In 1973, A Little Evening Music, starring Glynis Johns and Len Cariou, opened. Based mostly on Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer season Evening, this rueful romance of middle-age lovers incorporates the music ‘Ship within the Clowns,’ which gained recognition outdoors the present. A revival in 2009 starred Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a greatest revival Tony.
Pacific Overtures, with a e-book by John Weidman, adopted in 1976. The musical, additionally produced and directed by Prince, was not a monetary success, however it demonstrated Sondheim’s dedication to offbeat materials, filtering its story of the westernisation of Japan by way of a hybrid American-Kabuki fashion.
In 1979, Sondheim and Prince collaborated on what many consider to be Sondheim’s masterpiece, the bloody but usually darkly humorous Sweeney Todd. An formidable work, it starred Cariou within the title function as a murderous barber whose clients find yourself in meat pies baked by Todd’s prepared confederate, performed by Angela Lansbury.
The Sondheim-Prince partnership collapsed two years later, after Merrily We Roll Alongside, a musical that traced a friendship backward from its characters’ compromised center age to their idealistic youth. The present, based mostly on a play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, solely ran two weeks on Broadway. However once more, as with Anybody Can Whistle,” its unique solid recording helped ‘Merrily We Roll Alongside’ to grow to be a favorite amongst musical-theatre buffs.
Sunday within the Park, written with James Lapine, could also be Sondheim’s most private present. A story of uncompromising inventive creation, it advised the story of artist Georges Seurat, performed by Mandy Patinkin. The painter submerges the whole lot in his life, together with his relationship together with his mannequin (Bernadette Peters), for his artwork.) It was most just lately revived on Broadway in 2017 with Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Three years after Sunday debuted, Sondheim collaborated once more with Lapine, this time on the fairy-tale musical Into the Woods. The present starred Peters as a glamorous witch and dealt primarily with the turbulent relationships between dad and mom and kids, utilizing such well-known fairy-tale characters as Cinderella, Little Pink Using Hood and Rapunzel. It was most just lately revived in the summertime of 2012 in Central Park by The Public Theatre.
Assassins opened off-Broadway in 1991 and it regarded on the women and men who needed to kill presidents, from John Wilkes Sales space to John Hinckley. The present acquired principally destructive evaluations in its unique incarnation, however a lot of these critics reversed themselves 13 years later when the present was finished on Broadway and received a Tony for greatest musical revival.
Ardour was one other extreme take a look at obsession, this time a determined girl, performed by Donna Murphy, in love with a good-looking soldier. Regardless of profitable the best-musical Tony in 1994, the present barely managed a six-month run.
A brand new model of The Frogs, with extra songs by Sondheim and a revised e-book by Nathan Lane (who additionally starred within the manufacturing), performed Lincoln Centre throughout the summer time of 2004. The present, based mostly on the Aristophanes comedy, initially had been finished 20 years earlier within the Yale College swimming pool.
Certainly one of his extra troubled exhibits was Highway Present, which reunited Sondheim and Weidman and spent years being labored on. This story of the Mizner brothers, whose get-rich schemes within the early a part of the 20th century lastly made it to the Public Theatre in 2008 after going by way of a number of completely different titles, administrators and casts.
He had been engaged on a brand new musical with Venus in Fur playwright David Ives, who known as his collaborator a genius. “Not only are his musicals brilliant, but I can’t think of another theatre person who has so chronicled a whole age so eloquently,” Ives stated in 2013. “He is the spirit of the age in a certain way.”
Sondheim was born March 22, 1930, right into a rich household, the one son of costume producer Herbert Sondheim and Helen Fox Sondheim. At 10, his dad and mom divorced and Sondheim’s mom purchased a home in Doylestown, Pa., the place considered one of their Bucks County neighbours was lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, whose son, James, was Sondheim’s roommate at boarding college. It was Oscar Hammerstein who grew to become the younger man’s skilled mentor and pal.
He had a solitary childhood, one which concerned verbal abuse from his chilly mom. He acquired a letter in his 40s from her telling him that she regretted giving beginning to him. He continued to help her financially and to see her sometimes however didn’t attend her funeral.
Sondheim attended Williams Faculty in Massachusetts, the place he majored in music. After commencement, he acquired a two-year fellowship to review with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt.
Certainly one of Sondheim’s first jobs was writing scripts for the tv present Topper, which ran for 2 years (1953-1955). On the identical time, Sondheim wrote his first musical, Saturday Evening, the story of a gaggle of younger folks in Brooklyn in 1920s. It was to have opened on Broadway in 1955, however its producer died simply because the musical was about to enter manufacturing, and the present was scrapped. Saturday Evening lastly arrived in New York in 1997 in a small, off-Broadway manufacturing.
Sondheim wrote sometimes for the flicks. He collaborated with actor Anthony Perkins on the script for the 1973 homicide thriller The Final of Sheila, and in addition to his work on Dick Tracy (1990), wrote scores for such films as Alain Resnais’ Stavisky (1974) and Warren Beatty’s Reds (1981).
Through the years, there have been many Broadway revivals of Sondheim exhibits, particularly Gypsy, which had reincarnations starring Angela Lansbury (1974), Tyne Daly (1989) and Peters (2003). However there additionally have been productions of A Humorous Factor, one with Phil Silvers in 1972 and one other starring Nathan Lane in 1996; Into the Woods with Vanessa Williams in 2002; and even of Sondheim’s much less profitable exhibits akin to Assassins and Pacific Overtures, each in 2004. Sweeney Todd has been produced in opera homes around the globe. A reimagined West Facet Story opened on Broadway in 2020 and this yr an off-Broadway Assassins opened off-Broadway at Basic Stage Firm and a scrambled Firm opened on Broadway with the gender of the protagonist switched. A movie model of West Facet Story is to open this December directed by Steven Spielberg.
Sondheim’s songs have been used extensively in revues, the best-known being Facet by Facet by Sondheim (1976) on Broadway and Placing It Collectively, off-Broadway with Julie Andrews in 1992 and on Broadway with Carol Burnett in 1999. The New York Philharmonic placed on a star-studded Firm in 2011 with Neil Patrick Harris and Stephen Colbert. Tunes from his musicals have recently popped up all over the place from Marriage Story to The Morning Present.
An HBO documentary directed by Lapine, Six by Sondheim, aired in 2013 and revealed that he appreciated to compose mendacity down and generally loved a cocktail to loosen up as he wrote. He even revealed that he actually solely fell in love after reaching 60, first with the dramatist Peter Jones after which in his final years with Jeff Romley.
“Every so often someone comes along that fundamentally shifts an entire art form. Stephen Sondheim was one of those. As millions mourn his passing I also want to express my gratitude for all he has given to me and so many more,” singer and actor Hugh Jackman wrote by way of Twitter.