Stephen Sondheim: American composer and lyricist dies aged 91

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Stephen Sondheim saw ‘The King and I’ starring Margaret Cho and Kara Nicklausky at the Donmar Warehouse in London in 2005

Stephen Sondheim, the American-born musical theatre composer and lyricist, has died at the age of 91.

He died at his home in Manhattan, where he was celebrating his 90th birthday, his publicist confirmed.

Sondheim had been due to take part in a performance at New York’s Gershwin Theatre of the show Follies.

He produced more than 100 works for Broadway, notably West Side Story, Sweeney Todd and A Little Night Music.

Sondheim, who was Jewish, was born in what is now Maine, USA, in 1925. He made his Broadway debut in 1957 as a member of the cast of Company.

He wrote the songs for and is the composer of the title song from the American film Dead Poets Society and wrote the music for three of the films that led to the Tony Awards: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Follies and Company.

Sondheim won six Tony Awards. He won a 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for Company, for which he scored 11 songs.

Image copyright Image caption In 2009 Sondheim wrote a letter to a songwriter who had criticised one of his creations, Elaine Stritch, saying: ‘You were very smelly to me’

A Place in the Sun, Sondheim’s first movie adaptation, is considered his signature work.

Originally a novel, by Truman Capote, it was adapted for screen in 1962, starring James Dean, who won an Oscar for his performance.

Sondheim won the best musical Tony Award for the show, and was inspired to write the musical closer Sunday in the Park with George about an unlikely love affair between a young man and a grandmother from an Eastern European country.

His lyrics became indelible thanks to his staccato turn of phrase, keen ear for a lyric and unique blend of pop and classical music.

Sondheim expressed some of his sadness with the evolution of musical theatre in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live’s Nick Ferrari in 2006.

“We’re heading off into a new direction, like when Will Rogers said, ‘All talk is cheap, my friend. It’s not funny and it’s not right.”

“Of course, I think I’m an old soul, but I don’t think I’m that old,” he said.

Another one of his more popular pieces, Company, was played by American actress and singer Judy Kaye in a 1978 film directed by Martin Ritt.

Image copyright BBC Image caption Stephen Sondheim, who died in Manhattan, New York, at the age of 91, had been due to take part in a performance of Follies in New York on Monday

Sondheim had recently made headlines for his response to a critic who asked him on Twitter whether he still believed songs should be performed from beginning to end.

“Hmmm. We thought so! And they are! Follies. Sunday in the Park. Anything Shakespeare. We start, finish, and repeat,” he wrote.

After taking part in a concert of his works at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in July, he said he’d been “overwhelmed” by audiences’ enthusiasm for his shows.

“Everybody’s singing with beautiful voices and I mean beautiful voices. It’s unbelievable to see people sing the words in the style that I think of as the music style,” he said.

More recently, Sondheim had released The Black Swans by Marlon James in 2017, and No Man’s Land, a musical based on his 1968 film, in which he starred as Rossano Brazzi.

Leave a Comment