Stephen Sondheim, master of musical theater, dead at 91
As lyricist, songwriter, conceptual artist and imaginative force, Sondheim was maybe without par in the modern-day American theater. His works included impressive variety: the upgraded “Romeo and Juliet” love of “West Side Story” (for which he composed the lyrics), the travails of a modern-day group of good friends and enthusiasts in “Company,” even the issues of governmental killers (and tried killers) in “Assassins.”
His tune lyrics, in specific, were the gold requirement of the theater art, whether bold (“Rose’s Turn”), unfortunate (“Send in the Clowns”), threatening (“Children Will Listen”) or merely creative (“Ah, but Underneath”).
They were in some cases difficult — filled with creative rhymes and difficult meters, maybe natural for a male who as soon as explained himself as “a mathematician by nature.” However they hardly ever stopped working to get to the heart of a character.
Sondheim was especially proficient at revealing romantic yearning and loss. Tunes such as “Send in the Clowns” (from “A Little Night Music”), “Losing My Mind” (from “Follies”) and “Somewhere” (from “West Side Story”) are heartbreaking in their feeling.
Certainly, though his work was in some cases slammed as glib, Sondheim stated the delight of the theater was touching audiences.
Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born March 22, 1930, in New york city, the boy of a rich gown producer and his spouse, a designer. His moms and dads separated when Sondheim was a teen, and he relocated to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, outdoors Philadelphia.
Thanks to the tutelage of a good friend’s dad — lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II of the famous theatrical group Rodgers and Hammerstein — Sondheim, currently a musical prodigy, got a master class in play writing.
“He taught me how to structure a song, what a character was, what a scene was; he taught me how to tell a story, how not to tell a story, how to make stage directions practical,” Sondheim informed the Paris Evaluation in 1997. “I soaked it all up, and I still practice the principles he taught me that afternoon.”
Sondheim went to Williams College in Massachusetts, where he won a fellowship for his music that enabled him to continue research study. After a brief stint in Los Angeles — where he composed scripts for the television program “Topper,” thanks to a lead from Hammerstein — he went back to New york city and started a profession in the theater.
His very first success, at age 27, was as lyricist to “West Side Story,” with music by Leonard Bernstein. The musical’s well-known tunes consist of “America,” “Tonight,” “I Feel Pretty” and “Somewhere.” Though Sondheim later on called the lyrics “embarrassing,” the program was a huge hit, running for practically 1,000 efficiencies.
Next came 1959’s “Gypsy,” the story of Gypsy Rose Lee and her mom, Rose, for which Sondheim worked with author Jule Styne, and 1962’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” for which Sondheim composed both music and lyrics.
A long drought followed, lastly snapped in 1970 with “Company,” which ran for more than a year and took house a Tony for finest musical. It likewise marked the start of Sondheim’s 11-year partnership with producer-director Hal Prince, that included such hits as “Follies” (1971), “A Little Night Music” (1973) and “Sweeney Todd” (1979).
“A Little Night Music” produced what is maybe Sondheim’s best-known tune, “Send in the Clowns.”
A vibrant body of work
As Sondheim developed, no concept appeared too improbable for his pen and intelligence.
“Company” and “Follies” were significant for their practically plotless discussions; “Pacific Overtures” (1976), about the 19th-century American entry into Japan, was carried out kabuki-style. “Sweeney Todd” was a romp about a homicidal barber who has his victims made into meat pies.
In the ’80s and ’90s, he composed a musical about French pointillist painter Georges Seurat, “Sunday in the Park with George” (1984), which won the Pulitzer Reward for Drama. “Into the Woods” (1987), most likely his most-performed work, was a recasting of Grimm’s fairy tales. “Assassins” (1990) was a not likely tale about governmental assassins previous and present.
His last brand-new work was 2008’s “Road Show,” about a set of social-climbing siblings. It never ever made it to Broadway.
Though his early works, such as “West Side Story” and “Gypsy,” were made into films, his post-1970 work typically withstood the shift.
PBS and Showtime recorded “Sunday in the Park” for tv, a variation later on launched with Sondheim’s commentary. “Sweeney Todd” was made into a 2007 Tim Burton motion picture starring Johnny Depp, and “Into the Woods,” with a cast consisting of Meryl Streep and future late-night host James Corden, was recorded in 2014.
A brand-new adjustment of “West Side Story” is due out next month from director Steven Spielberg.
Sondheim made his Oscar for a tune he composed for 1990’s “Dick Tracy,” “Sooner or Later.” A Brand-new Yorker to his core, he didn’t participate in the event.
The theater, nevertheless, was another matter. A 2010 evaluation for his 80th birthday, “Sondheim on Sondheim,” made rapturous evaluations and a reconsideration of his long profession. The author, a reticent male when not waxing rhapsodically about his Clement Wood rhyming dictionary or applauding his partners, was normally modest about the response.
“It’s been a little too much in the public spotlight,” he informed “Fresh Air’s” Terry Gross. “But the outpouring of enthusiasm and affection has been worth it. It’s terrific to know that people like your stuff.”
A few of the lots of individuals who have actually carried out Sondheim’s work or been moved by it flooded social networks with homages following news of his death.
Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.