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InvestmentsBroadway legend Stephen Sondheim, whose work transformed musical theater, dead at 91...

Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, whose work transformed musical theater, dead at 91 By Reuters


¬© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Stephen Sondheim poses as he arrives at a particular screening of the DreamWorks Pictures movie “Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California December 5, 2007. REUTERS/Fred Prouser


By Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Gorman

(Reuters) -Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who helped American musical theater evolve past pure leisure and attain new creative heights with such works as “West Side Story,” “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd,” died early Friday at the age of 91, his publicist mentioned.

The musical nice died at his residence in Roxbury, Connecticut, spokesperson Kathryn Zuckerman advised Reuters by e-mail, saying she had little extra data. The information was reported earlier by the New York Times.

Sondheim’s eight Tony Awards for his lyrics and music surpassed the overall of some other composer. In 2008 he additionally received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.

He began early, studying the artwork of musical theater when he was an adolescent from his mentor Oscar Hammerstein II, the legendary lyricist behind “The Sound of Music.”

“Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was in flip mentored by Sondheim, has referred to as him musical theater’s biggest lyricist.

Sondheim’s most profitable works included “Into the Woods,” which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used youngsters’s fairy tales to untangle grownup obsessions; the 1979 thriller “Sweeney Todd,” a few murderous barber in London whose victims are served as meat pies; and 1962’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” a vaudeville-style comedy set in historical Rome.

He additionally wrote the lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s rating for “West Side Story,” impressed by William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and collaborated with fellow composer Jule Styne as lyricist for “Gypsy,” loosely based mostly on the memoirs of burlesque star Gypsy Rose Lee.

“I love the theater as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is paramount to me,” Sondheim mentioned in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio.

Several of Sondheim’s hit musicals have been became motion pictures, together with the 2014 movie “Into the Woods,” starring Meryl Streep, and the 2007 “Sweeney Todd” with Johnny Depp. A brand new movie model of “West Side Story,” directed by Stephen Spielberg from a screenplay by Tony Kushner, opens subsequent month.

During a visitor look in September on the CBS “Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Sondheim mentioned he visited the set of Spielberg’s adaptation, and endorsed the movie “as really first rate.”

Sondheim’s songs have been celebrated for his or her sharp wit and perception into trendy life and for giving voice to complicated characters, however few of them made the pop charts.


He scored a success, nevertheless, and considered one of three Grammys of his profession, with “Send in the Clowns” from his 1973 musical “A Little Night Music.” It was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Collins, amongst others. Sondheim additionally earned a best-song Academy Award in 1991 for “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man),” sung by Madonna within the “Dick Tracy” film.

In 2015, President Barack Obama offered the lyricist the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a White House ceremony.

One of Sondheim’s biggest triumphs was the Pulitzer Prize he shared with composure James Lapine for the 1984 musical “Sunday in the Park with George,” about Nineteenth-century French Neo-Impressionist artist Georges Seurat. The two additionally collaborated on “Into the Woods.”

Actress Bernadette Peters, who performed the roles of Dot and Marie in “Sunday in the Park” and the witch of “Into the Woods,” expressed disappointment at the lack of a good friend, tweeting, Sondheim “gave me so much to sing about.”

Fellow actress Anna Kendrick, who starred as Cinderella within the movie model of “Into the Woods,” referred to as Sondheim’s loss of life “a devastating loss.”

“Performing his work has been among the greatest privileges of my career,” she added on Twitter (NYSE:).

As Sondheim collected accolades, New York City’s Broadway theater trade underwent many modifications. It had a key position in American tradition by way of the Fifties, with many Broadway songs making the pop charts, however misplaced significance as rock music gained a maintain on the general public beginning within the Nineteen Sixties.

Increasingly, musicals borrowed materials from tv and flicks, as an alternative of the opposite approach round, composer Mark N. Grant wrote in his ebook “The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical.”

Sondheim shared the view that Broadway had skilled decline, expressing it repeatedly in interviews.

“There are so many forms of entertainment, theater is becoming more marginalized,” he advised British newspaper The Times in 2012.

But Broadway musicals additionally turned extra creative, and Sondheim performed a key position of their evolution, critics mentioned. He explored such weighty matters as political violence in “Assassins,” the human want for household and the pull of dysfunctional relationships in “Into the Woods,” social inequality in “Sweeney Todd,” and Western imperialism in “Pacific Overtures.”

He developed new strategies for presenting a play as properly. Instead of telling a narrative from starting to finish, he would bounce back and forth in time to discover a single theme. It was referred to as the “concept musical.”

Broadway audiences have been launched to Sondheim with “West Side Story” in 1957. The story a few love affair between a Puerto Rican lady, Maria, and a white boy, Tony, in working-class Manhattan was became an Oscar-winning movie in 1961. The central characters expressed their infatuation within the songs (*91*) “Somewhere” and “Tonight.”


Sondheim was born March 22, 1930, in New York City to prosperous Jewish dad and mom who labored in style. He described his early childhood as a lonely one, with servants as his primary firm.

After his dad and mom cut up up when he was 10 years previous, Sondheim moved along with his mom to rural Pennsylvania, the place she purchased a farm. He later mentioned his mom took out her wrath over the divorce on him. He discovered a surrogate household within the close by family of Hammerstein and his spouse, Dorothy.

Hammerstein, who together with composing associate Richard Rodgers created the basic musicals “Oklahoma!” “South Pacific and “The Sound of Music,” taught the teenage Sondheim how to write musical theater.

After Sondheim became famous, he mentored others on Broadway. When Miranda began work on a rap musical about American founding father Alexander Hamilton, Sondheim encouraged and critiqued him. The play became a smash hit on Broadway in 2015.

In box office success, Sondheim fell short of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer behind “The Phantom of the Opera (NASDAQ:)” and “Cats” with whom Sondheim shared a birthday.

Sondheim pushed audiences, which sometimes resulted in box office flops.

Some of his least commercially successful plays were lauded by critics. Those included the 1976 “Pacific Overtures,” which depicted Japan during an age of Western colonialism, and his 1990 off-Broadway production “Assassins” about real-life figures who every got down to kill an American president.

Sondheim had many followers within the educational world. In 1994, a quarterly journal referred to as the Sondheim Review was based to look at his work, 5 years after Oxford University in England named him a visiting professor of drama.

His devotees celebrated the acerbic irony of his lyrics, which they described as commenting on the whole lot from the boundaries of America’s melting pot to the draw back of marriage.

These traces from “The Ladies Who Lunch” in his 1970 musical “Company” contained a typical slice of Sondheim’s wit: “Here’s to the girls who play wife/Aren’t they too much?/Keeping house but clutching a copy of ‘LIFE’/Just to keep in touch.”


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