Stephen Sondheim, the American musical master craftsman, died at the age of 91. On Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, his death prompted tributes from the entertainment industry and beyond.
Sondheim co-created theatre classics such as West Side Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods throughout a career spanning more than 60 years. His cleverly amazing songs pushed the walls of the art form, and he created moving and comic masterpieces from subjects such as a murderous barber (Sweeney Todd), Plautus’ Roman comedies (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and Georges Seurat’s pointillist painting (Sunday in the Park With George).
Stephen was born in New York on March 22, 1930. His parents, who worked in the fashion industry, divorced when he was ten years old. He was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein, one of the greatest lyricists and librettists, whose son was his friend at George School in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
His first musical, By George, was written when he was fifteen. West Side Story, which relocated Romeo and Juliet to the mean streets of New York City’s Upper West Side and was conceived by Jerome Robbins, with a book by Arthur Laurents and music by Leonard Bernstein, was his first big hit when he was 27. Generations of theatergoers would love his lyrics of Tonight, America, and Somewhere.
“The theatre has lost one of its greatest geniuses, and the world has lost one of its greatest and most original writers,” producer Cameron Mackintosh said upon learning of his death. Unfortunately, there is now a giant in the sky. But Sondheim’s brilliance will live on in the form of his brilliant songs and shows, which will be performed in perpetuity. Goodbye, old friend, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”