NEW YORK – Stephen Sondheim, the songwriter who reshaped American musical theater in the late 20th century with his intelligent, complex rhyming lyrics, use of evocative melodies and his desire to tackle unusual themes, has died. He was 91 years old.
Sondheim’s death was announced by DKC/O&M President Rick Miramontez. Sondheim’s Texas-based attorney, Rick Pappas, told The New York Times that the musician died Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut.
Sondheim influenced several generations of theater songwriters, especially with historical musicals such as “Company,” “Foliage” and “Sweeney Todd,” considered among his best works. His most famous ballad, “Send in the Clown”, has been recorded hundreds of times, featuring Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins.
The artist refused to repeat himself, finding inspiration for his shows in such diverse subjects as the Ingmar Bergmann film (“A Little Night Music”), the opening in the west of Japan (“Pacific Overtures”), the French painter Georges Seurat. Refused to repeat. Sunday in the Park with George”), Grimm’s fairy tales (“Into the Woods”) and even assassins of American presidents (“Assassins”).
Artists and writers alike flooded social media with tributes saluting a giant of the theatre. “We’ll be singing your songs forever,” wrote Lea Salonga. Aaron tweeted: “We are so lucky to have what you have given to the world.”
Producer Cameron Mackintosh wrote in tribute, “The theater has lost one of its greatest talents and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers. Tragically, there is now a giant in the sky.” Is.” Music supervisor, arranger and orchestrator Alex Lacamoire tweeted: “For those of us who love the new musical theatre: We live in a world that Sondheim created.”
Six of Sondheim’s musicals won the Tony Award for Best Score, and also received a Pulitzer Prize (“Sunday in the Park”), an Academy Award (for the song “Sooner or Later” from the film “Dick Tracy”), five Olivier . Awards and Presidential Medal of Honor. In 2008, he received a Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement.
Sondheim’s music and lyrics gave his show a dark, dramatic edge, whereas before him, the music’s dominant tone was foamy and comical. He was sometimes criticized as a composer of inhumane songs, a badge that did not bother Sondheim. Frank Sinatra, who had a hit with Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns”, once complained: “If he wrote more songs for saloon singers like me, he could have made me a lot happier.”
For theater fans, Sondheim’s sophistication and talent made her an icon. A Broadway theater was named after him. A cover of New York magazine asked, “Is Sondheim God?” The Guardian newspaper once posed the question: “Is Stephen Sondheim the Shakespeare of musical theatre?”
A supreme wordsmith – and an avid player of word games – the joy of Sondheim’s language shone through. “The opposite of left is right / the opposite of right is wrong / so the opposite of left is wrong, right?” He wrote in “Anyone Can Whistle”. In “Company” he wrote these lines: “Good things get better/Bad gets worse/Wait – I guess I meant the reverse.”
He offered the lyrics collected in his first volume, the three principles necessary for a songwriter – Content Dictates Form, Less Is More, and God Is in the Details. All these truths, he wrote, were “in the service of clarity, without which nothing else matters.” Together they lead to surprising lines such as: “It’s a very short road from chutney and punch to punch and thali and pension.”
Taught by someone genius than Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim pushed music into a deeper, richer and more intellectual space. “If you think of a theater song as a short story, as I do, every line is a weight of a paragraph,” he wrote in his 2010 book, “Finishing the Hat”, in his The first volume and comments of a collection of songs.
Early in his career, Sondheim wrote songs for “West Side Story” (1957) and “Gypsy” (1959), two shows considered classics of the American stage. “West Side Story” with music by Leonard Bernstein transplanted Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” into the streets and gangs of modern New York. “Gypsy” with music by Joule Stine told the story of the ultimate stage mother and daughter who became Gypsy Rose Lee backstage.
It wasn’t until 1962 that Sondheim wrote both the music and lyrics for the Broadway show, and it became a smash—the bawdy “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum”, starring Zero Mostell as a cunning slave. did. Ancient Rome yearned to be free.
Yet his next show, “Anyone Can Whistle” (1964), flopped, ran only nine performances, but achieved cult status after the release of its cast recordings. Sondheim’s 1965 song collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers – “Do I Hear a Waltz?” – also turned out to be problematic. The musical, based on the play “The Time of the Cuckoo”, ran for six months, but was a sad experience for both men, who did not get along.
It was “The Company”, which opened on Broadway in April 1970, that cemented Sondheim’s reputation. The episodic adventures of a bachelor (played by Dean Jones), hailed as capturing the obsessive nature of striving, self-centered New Yorkers, coupled with their inability to commit to a relationship. The show, produced and directed by Hal Prince, won Sondheim his first Tony for Best Score. “The Ladies Who Lunch” became a standard for Elaine Stritch.
The following year, Sondheim wrote the score for “Follies”, a look at the shattered hopes and hopeless dreams of the women who appeared in grand Ziegfeld-style revues. The music and lyrics paid tribute to great composers of the past such as Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and the Gershwins.
In 1973, “A Little Night Music” opened, starring Glynis Johns and Len Cario. Based on Bergman’s “Smiles of a Summer Night”, this pitiful romance of middle-aged lovers includes the song “Send in the Clowns”, which gained popularity outside the show. A 2009 revival starring Angela Lansbury and Catherine Zeta-Jones was nominated for a Best Revival Tony.
“Pacific Overtures”, with a book by John Weidman, came out in 1976. The musical, produced and directed by Prince, was also not a financial success, but it demonstrated Sondheim’s commitment to offbeat material, filtering its story of Japan’s westernization through it. A hybrid American-kabuki style.
In 1979, Sondheim and Prince collaborated on what is considered by many to be Sondheim’s masterpiece, the bloody yet often deeply funny “Sweeney Todd”. An ambitious work, it starred Cario in the title role as a murderous barber whose clients end up in a meat pie cooked by Todd’s willing partner, played by Angela Lansbury.
The Sondheim–Prince partnership collapsed two years later after “Merley We Roll Along”, a musical that chronicled the friendship of its characters from their compromised middle age to their idealistic youth. George S. The show, based on a play by Kaufman and Moss Hart, ran on Broadway for only two weeks. But again, like “Anyone Can Whistle,” its original cast recording helped “Merly We Roll Along” become a favorite among music-theater enthusiasts.
“Sunday in the Park”, co-written with James Lapin, may be Sondheim’s most personal show. A tale of uncompromising artistic creation, it tells the story of artist Georges Seurat, played by Mandy Patinkin. The painter submerges everything in his life for his art, including his relationship with his model (Bernadette Peters). It was most recently revived on Broadway in 2017 with Jake Gyllenhaal.)
Three years after the debut of “Sunday”, Sondheim again collaborated with Lapin, this time on the fairy-tale musical “Into the Woods”. The show starred Peters as a glamorous witch and primarily used famous fairy-tale characters such as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel with turbulent relationships between parents and children. It was recently revived by The Public Theater in Central Park in the summer of 2012.
“Assassins” opened Off-Broadway in 1991 and has seen men and women who wanted to kill presidents, from John Wilkes Booth to John Hinckley. The show received mostly negative reviews in its original incarnation, but many of those critics reversed themselves 13 years later when the show was performed on Broadway and won a Tony for Best Musical Revival.
“Passion” was a more serious take on the passion, this time a desperate woman, played by Donna Murphy, in love with a beautiful soldier. Despite winning the Best Musical Tony in 1994, the show barely lasted six months.
A new version of “The Frogs”, with additional songs by Sondheim and a revised book by Nathan Lane (who also starred in the production), played Lincoln Center during the summer of 2004. The show, based on the Aristophanes comedy, was originally performed at Yale University’s swimming pool 20 years earlier.
One of their more troubled shows was “Road Show”, which reunited Sondheim and Weidman and worked on for years. The story of the Mizner brothers, whose thriving plans in the early 20th century after going through several different titles, directors and actors, eventually made it to the Public Theater in 2008.
He was working on a new musical with “Venus in Fur” playwright David Ives, who called his collaborator a genius. In 2013 Ives said, “Not only are his musicals fantastic, but I can’t think of any other theater person who has so eloquently described the whole age.” He has a sense of age in a certain way.
Sondheim was born on 22 March 1930 into a wealthy family, the only son of dress maker Herbert Sondheim and Helen Fox Sondheim. At age 10, his parents divorced, and Sondheim’s mother bought a house in Doylestown, Pa., where one of her Bucks County neighbors was songwriter Oscar Hammerstein II, whose son, James, attended boarding school. Sondheim’s roommate. It was Oscar Hammerstein who became …