Iconic Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has died at 91

Stephen Sondheim, the legendary Broadway songwriter, has died at his Connecticut home at the age of 91, according to The New York Times. The prolific composer and lyricist was the creative force of some twenty musicals from 1954, including West Side Story (Lyrics), A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, Follies, Sweeney todd, In the woods, and more – as well as numerous film and television projects, from adaptations of his Broadway hits to original songs for films such as Dick tracy and The bird cage. During his remarkable seven-decade career, Sondheim has won nine Tony Awards, eight Grammys, a Pulitzer Prize, and an Academy Award, among many other honors.

Versatility was a hallmark of Sondheim. His willingness to experiment and innovate means he’s rarely walked the same path twice, going from farce and romance to historical drama and hitting every note in between. No subject was too obscure or offbeat to form the basis of one of his shows: Sweeney todd followed a homicidal and cannibalistic barber in the context of the beginning of the industrial revolution; Sunday in the park with George explored the creative inspirations of pointillist painter Georges Seurat; Pacific openings treaty on the westernization of Japan in the late 1800s; Assassins was, literally, about the presidential assassins.

Along the way, several songs by Sondheim have entered the firmament of pop culture. The sad “Send the clowns”, from the years 1973 A little night music, became his biggest hit after Frank Sinatra recorded it that year (his version uses the end credits of Todd Phillips Joker) and the shooting of Judy Collins two years later. Barbra Streisand took over the song in a memorable way in 1985 – and Sondheim even wrote an additional verse for the occasion.

In presenting Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, Barack Obama underlined the complexity of the songwriter’s work and his desire to set the bar high for himself and theatergoers: “As a composer and lyricist, and a genre in itself, Sondheim challenges his audiences. His greatest hits are not tunes to be hummed; it’s reflections on roads we haven’t taken, and wishes gone awry, relationships so frayed and fractured that we just have to send the clowns away. Yet Stephen’s music is so beautiful, his lyrics so precise, that even though he exposes the imperfections of everyday life, he transcends them. We transcend them. Simply put, Stephen has reinvented the American musical.

Sondheim grew up largely on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and, following his parents’ divorce, attended a military academy and boarding school in Pennsylvania before moving to Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he s ‘specializes in theater. He was mentored in his youth by another titan of musical theater, Oscar Hammerstein II, whose son Sondheim had befriended.

“I am interested in communicating with the public,” Sondheim said Fresh airTerry Gross explains why he was drawn to the theater. “I love theater as much as music, and the idea of ​​reaching an audience and making them laugh, make them cry – just make them feel – is very important to me.”

Several Sondheim musicals have enjoyed successful covers in recent years, including Sweeney todd and Sunday in the park with George (with Jake Gyllenhaal as titular painter). A scheduled relaunch of Society – a virtually uninhibited meditation on love and marriage that won six Tonys after its 1970 debut – starring Patti LuPone in the reverse lead role, and which was due to coincide with Sondheim’s 90th birthday in March 2020, has been postponed to reason for the Covid-19 pandemic; its first preview took place just a few weeks ago in Manhattan. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story is scheduled to hit theaters on December 10.

As news of Sondheim’s death broke on Friday, Broadway stars past and present have responded on Twitter. Josh Gad, Frozen star and Tony nominated for his role in The Book of Mormon, wrote: “Perhaps since April 23, 1616, the theater has lost such a revolutionary voice. Thank you Mr Sondheim for your Demon Barber, the nightly music, a Sunday in the park, the company, fun at a forum, a trip to the woods and telling us a West Side story. TEAR.”

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