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Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim dies at 91

Alex Dobuzhinskis | Reuters

Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who helped American musical theater go beyond pure entertainment and reach new artistic heights with works such as West Side Story, Into the Woods and Sweeney Todd, died early Friday at his home in Roxbury. , Connecticut, aged 91, reports the New York Times.

Sondheim, whose eight lifetime Tony Awards surpassed the total of any other composer, started early studying the art of musical theater when he was still a teenager with The Sound of Music lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II.

The creator of “Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose mentor was Sondheim, called him the greatest poet of musical theater.

Elizabeth Taylor is working with Stephen Sondheim to record songs for the 1976 film Little Night Music in London. Sondheim wrote the music and lyrics for the film. (Graham Morris / Evening Standard via Getty Images)

Sondheim’s most successful musicals include Into the Woods, which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used children’s stories to unravel adult obsessions, the 1979 thriller Sweeney Todd about a bloody barber in London whose victims are meat pies, and 1962 th. A Funny Event Happened On the Way to the Forum, a vaudeville-style comedy set in ancient Rome.

“I love theater as much as music, and the idea of ​​getting the audience out and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is of the utmost importance to me,” Sondheim told National Public Radio in 2013. …

Several of Sondheim’s popular musicals have been filmed, including the 2014 film Into the Woods starring Meryl Streep and 2007’s Sweeney Todd starring Johnny Depp. A new film version of West Side Story will be released next month, for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics to the music of Leonard Bernstein.

His songs were famous for their wit and understanding of modern life, as well as for the voice of complex characters, but only a few of them made it to the pop charts.

‘Clowns’ hit

However, he became a hit with the Grammy-winning song “Send the Clowns” from his 1973 musical “Little Night Music”. It was recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and Judy Collins, among others.

One of Sondheim’s greatest triumphs was his Pulitzer Prize for the 1984 musical Sunday in the Park with George, about the 19th century French neo-impressionist painter Georges Seurat.

As Sondheim garnered accolades, New York’s theater industry on Broadway has undergone many changes. It played a pivotal role in American culture throughout the 1950s, when many Broadway songs hit the pop charts, but lost ground as rock music took off from the 1960s.

Musicals increasingly borrowed material from television and film, rather than the other way around, as composer Mark N. Grant wrote in his book The Rise and Fall of the Broadway Musical.

Sondheim shared the view that Broadway was in decline, repeatedly expressing this in interviews.

“There are so many forms of entertainment that theater is becoming more and more marginalized,” he told the British newspaper The Times in 2012.

But according to critics, Broadway musicals have also become more artistic, and Sondheim has played a key role in their development. He explored such important topics as assassination in Assassins, human needs for family and dysfunctional tendencies in In the Woods, social inequality in Sweeney Todd, and Western imperialism in Pacific Overtures.

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He also developed new methods for presenting the piece. Instead of telling a story from start to finish, he jumped back and forth in time to explore one topic. It was called a “concept musical.”

Broadway audiences met Sondheim in 1957, when he wrote the lyrics for West Side Story in accordance with the music of Leonard Bernstein, and it became an American classic. The story of the love affair between Puerto Rican girl Maria and white boy Tony in working-class Manhattan was filmed in 1961 as an Oscar-winning film. The main characters expressed their passion in the songs “Maria”. Somewhere and Tonight.

Conflict with mother

Sondheim was born on March 22, 1930 in New York to a family of wealthy Jews who worked in fashion. He described his early childhood as lonely, where his main company was a servant.

After his parents separated when he was 10, Sondheim moved with his mother to rural Pennsylvania, where she bought a farm. He later said that his mother poured out her anger on him about the divorce. He found a surrogate family in the neighboring home of Hammerstein and his wife Dorothy.

Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim dies at 91
President Barack Obama presents Sondheim with the 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom (Alex Wong / Getty Images Archives)

Hammerstein, who, along with partner Richard Rogers, created the classic Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music taught the teenager Sondheim to write musical theater.

After Sondheim became famous, he mentored others on Broadway. When Miranda started working on a rap musical about
American founding father Alexander Hamilton, Sondheim encouraged and criticized him. The play became a hit on Broadway in 2015.

At the box office, Sondheim lagged behind Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer who wrote The Phantom of the Opera and The Cats, with whom Sondheim shared a birthday.

Sondheim pushed the boundaries of audiences, which sometimes led to flop at the box office.

Some of his least commercially successful plays have been critically acclaimed. These include the 1976 Pacific Overtures, which depicts Japan during the era of Western colonialism, and his 1990 off-Broadway production, Assassins, about real people who each intended to assassinate an American president.

Sondheim had many admirers in the academic world. In 1994, the quarterly magazine Sondheim Review dedicated to his work was founded, five years after the University of Oxford in England appointed him a visiting professor of drama.

His adherents noted the biting irony of his writing, which they described as commentaries on everything from America’s melting pot boundaries to the underside of marriage.

These lines from Ladies Who Dine in his 1970 musical Company contained a typical slice of Sondheim’s wit:

“For the girls who play the wife /
Aren’t there too many of them? /
Leading the house, but squeezing a copy of “LIFE” /
Just to stay connected. “

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