Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim dead at 91

Stephen Sondheim
Image: Screengrab YouTube

Stephen Sondheim died yesterday after celebrating Thanksgiving with friends. Lauded as the ‘defining musical voice of his generation’, his musicals included West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, A Little Night Music, and Sondheim on Sondheim.

Sondheim wrote lyrics that resonated with audiences worldwide. The phrase ‘a string of hits’ doesn’t come close to describing his legendary output.

‘Send in the Clowns’, ‘Maria’, I Feel Pretty’, ‘Somewhere’, ‘Tonight’, ‘Let Me Entertain You… The list goes on and on.

Born in New York, Sondheim had an unhappy childhood. After his father left for another woman, Sondheim said his mother abused him as a surrogate for her hated husband. The songwriter stayed away from his mother’s funeral following her death in 1992.

West Side Story

A childhood friend of the son of legendary lyricist Oscar Hammerstein, Sondheim learned his trade from a master. He achieved his first Broadway hit with West Side Story along with composer Leonard Bernstein. The pair also wrote Gypsy.

Sondheim came out at the age of 40 and in 2017 married Jeffrey Scott Romley after eight years together.

Earlier this year, Sondheim told Stephen Colbert he was working on a new show called Square One.

“We had a reading of it last week and we were encouraged so we’re going to go ahead with it. With any luck, we’ll get it on next season.”

December will also see the release of a new film version of West Side Story by Steven Spielberg. Sondheim described the new movie as ‘terrific’.

“For those of you who know the show, there are going to be some real surprises in it because Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay, has done some really imaginative and surprising things with the way the songs are used in the story.

“The whole thing has real sparkle to it and real energy and it feels fresh. It’s really first-rate. Movie musicals are hard to do and this one, Spielberg and Kushner really nailed it.”

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story

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