Musical theater icon Stephen Sondheim dies


The legendary American composer and songwriter Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91.

His attorney told the New York Times that Sondheim died at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut on Friday, the BBC reports.

He was a titan of musical theater who turned the most unlikely subjects into benchmarks of entertainment.

During his illustrious career, he wrote sheet music for some of Broadway’s best-known shows, including Company, Follies, and A Little Night Music. Sondheim also wrote the lyrics for West Side Story.

The New York-born composer has won eight Grammy Awards, nine Tony Awards – including the Special Lifetime Achievement in the Theater Award – and an Academy Award. He also received a Pulitzer Prize.

In 2015, US President Barack Obama awarded Sondheim the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian honor – for his work.

Sondheim’s attorney said the composer celebrated Thanksgiving with friends a day before his death.

Tributes began to pour in to one of musical theater’s most revered composers.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted: “Stephen Sondheim created fantastic worlds and characters, but at the heart of every story he told was a child from New York. And that child was a legend. One of the brightest lights on Broadway is dark tonight May he rest in peace.

American actress and singer Anna Kendrick has said that performing Sondheim’s work “has been one of the greatest privileges of my career”, adding that the composer’s death was “a devastating loss”.

Journalist Fae O’Toole posted on Twitter a letter she received from Sondheim in 2011, when she was “a theater freak at 16”.

She said it “made me cry for weeks and propelled me into a career in art and writing. Thank you for everything. Rest easy.”

Born March 22, 1930, Sondheim saw his first Broadway musical at the age of nine.

The following year, he met Oscar Hammerstein II, of The King and I and Oklahoma! fame, who became his mentor when he made his first forays into musical theater.

After some teenage experiments with form, he was commissioned to turn Front Porch in Flatbush, a play by twin brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, into a musical.

The resulting play, titled Saturday Night, did not open on Broadway in 1954 as expected, following the death of its producer, Lemuel Ayers. Indeed, it will be 43 years before he receives his first professional in London.

Rather, Sondheim’s big break came from an invitation to write lyrics for West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein’s contemporary tale of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

West Side Story opened on Broadway in 1957 and has run for over 700 performances. A 1961 film version won 10 Oscars.

In 2010, the year Sondheim turned 80, a Broadway theater was renamed in his honor.

Ten years later he received the same honor in London when the Queen’s Theater on Shaftesbury Avenue was renamed Sondheim.

Sondheim is survived by her husband, Jeffrey Scott Romley, almost 50 years his junior, whom he married in 2017.

“You have to work on something that makes you uncertain – something that makes you doubt yourself,” Sondheim said in 2017.

“If you know where you’re going, you’re gone, as the poet says. And it is death.

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