- Stephen Sondheim, the iconic Broadway composer-lyricist, died Friday at the age of 91.
- The New York Times reported that his death was “sudden.”
- He wrote the music and lyrics for a dozen Broadway shows, five of which won the Tony Award for best musical.
Stephen Sondheim, the storied composer-lyricist responsible for several of Broadway’s most beloved musicals over the last six decades, is dead at 91, according to The New York Times.
His lawyer and friend, F. Richard Pappas, confirmed the artist died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut. Pappas told the outlet that the death was sudden.
One day before, Sondheim had celebrated Thanksgiving with friends in Roxbury, Pappas said.
The composer has been a staple in the musical theatre world since the late 1950s when he penned lyrics for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, Sondheim composed and wrote lyrics for several of Broadway’s most original and iconic musicals, including “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd,” “Sunday in the Park with George,” “Into the Woods,” and “Assassins.”
He penned both the music and lyrics for a dozen Broadway shows, five of which won the Tony Award for best musical, and six of which won for best original score. His show, “Sunday in the Park with George,” won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Three revivals of his shows won Tonys and he was awarded a Tony Award for lifetime achievement in 2008.
Born to a Jewish family in New York City in 1930, Sondheim was drawn to music from a young age. Following his parents’ bitter divorce, a ten-year-old Sondheim formed a friendship with James Hammerstein, the son of playwright and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. The artist took Sondheim under his wing, influencing his love for musical theatre and mentoring his songwriting skills.
Sondheim attended Williams College, where he studied theater and composition under Robert Barrow and Milton Babbitt. He was in his early 20s when he found his first professional success. His first two jobs — “West Side Story” and “Gypsy” irritated the artist, who had been hired to write lyrics for the musicals, but who thought himself a composer as well.
“I enjoy writing music much more than lyrics,” he wrote in his 2010 memoir “Finishing the Hat.”
But Hammerstein encouraged the young Sondheim to take the jobs, where he worked with legends like Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Ethel Merman.
Sondheim’s career flourished throughout the 1970s as he formed a yearslong partnership with director Harold Prince, who staged five of the composer’s musicals including “Company,” “Follies, “A Little Night Music,” “Pacific Overtures,” and “Sweeney Todd.”
In the 1980s, Sondheim teamed up with James Lapine, who directed “Into the Woods,” “Passion,” and “Sunday in the Park with George” — a musical telling of the painter Georges Seurat’s attempt to create his classic “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.”
Many of Sondheim’s compatriots and admirers consider “Sunday,” one of his longest-running and most critically acclaimed shows, also his most personal.
Despite his critical success, many of Sondheim’s musicals failed to find overwhelming box office success. His complicated compositions and cerebral lyrics were his staple, but a far-cry from the melodrama and spectacle of other musicals popular at the time. Still, the artist is often credited with reinventing the American musical.
The composer also wrote music for films throughout the years, including the song “Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man) for the 1991 film “Dick Tracy,” for which he won an Academy Award. His song “Send In the Clowns” from “A Little Night Music” won song of the year at the Grammy’s in 1975.
Sondheim, who also had a home in Manhattan, was spending most of his time during the pandemic in Roxbury, according to the Times. But the composer made appearances in New York City earlier this month to see performances of two of his revivals currently being staged, “Assassins” and “Company.”
Pappas told the Times that Sondheim was “extremely” pleased with both productions.
In 2017, Sondheim married Jeffrey Romley, who, along with his half-brother, Walter Sondheim, survive him.