The master of musical theater was 91 – The Hollywood Reporter

Stephen Sondheim, the sublime and sophisticated composer and lyricist who revolutionized American musical theater with achievements such as Society, Sweeney todd, Sunday in the park with George and In the woods, is dead. He was 91 years old.

Sondheim, who was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II and Leonard Bernstein en route to collecting nine Tony Awards, one Pulitzer Prize, one Oscar and eight Grammy during his matchless career, died early Friday at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, his lawyer and friend F. Richard Pappas said The New York Times.

At the end of 1950s, Sondheim put words to Bernstein’s music for the original production of West Side Story (“Maria”, “America”), then collaborated with Jule Styne on Gypsy (“Everything’s Coming Up Roses”).

“Send the clowns”, his dark and plaintive call of A little night music, the 1973 play based on Ingmar Bergman’s play Smiles of a summer night, has been recorded by famous singers such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Collins, Barbra Streisand and Krusty the clown.

Write only with software, Black wing pencils – the brand ceased production years ago, so he bought a lifetime supply – the meticulous New Yorker delighted with puns, and his lyrics have been praised for their wit and complexity.

From his song “Now”, about a lawyer considering his options for courting his young wife, 1973 A little night music:

Now with my mental facilities
Partly muddy
And ready to break
Now although there are possibilities
Still to study, you might as well take a nap
Bow down though I have to
To adjust my initial plan
How am i going to sleep
Half as deep
As I usually can
When now I want you and / or still love you,
Now as always,
Now, Anne?

Sondheim often dealt with subjects far darker than the radiant buoyancy and exhilarating tales of the typical musical, and its productions did not send audiences out of the theater smiling and humming.

During its most fertile time of creation, Sondheim collaborated with producer-director Hal Prince. They have teamed up on nine musicals: 1957 West Side Story, 1962 A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, 1970s Society, the years 1971 Follies and A little night music, 1976 Pacific openings, the years 1979 Sweeney Todd: The Barber Demon of Fleet Street, nineteen eighty one We ride happily and 2003 Bounce.

After parting ways with Prince early 1980s, Sondheim worked with playwright James Lapine, collaborating on the award-winning work Pulitzer Sunday in the park with George, the 1984 Broadway production starring Mandy Patinkin and Bernadette Peters in a story about an iconoclastic artist.

The musical, which is inspired by the painting by Georges Seurat A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Bowl, received the Pulitzer for the theater and two Tony.

“They wrote it while we rehearsed it and still wrote it after we opened on Broadway in 1983,” Peters recalls in a 2014 interview with The Guardian. “Every day Steve would accompany a new song that we put on the show that night or the next day.

“I remember how exciting it was when ‘Finishing the Hat’ came up. And then we went to Broadway and other songs came along, including ‘Children and Art’. I used to wait every night so I could sing ‘Move On’ which sounded like meditation – it was so healing and uplifting.

from Sondheim the topic dealt with non-musical emotions like loneliness and obsession: Sweeney todd, a barber uses his cutting skills to commit murder while his friend prepares the victims into pies.

His Broadway production of In the woods, a twisted take on classic fairy tales, also starred Peters and Joanna Gleason and was adapted for the big screen by Rob Marshall in 2014. The film version starred Meryl Streep, who in a 2014 interview with Hollywood journalist recalls nervously meeting Sondheim in her Manhattan home after being chosen to play the witch.

Streep “asked if he wouldn’t mind signing his score.” “I would be glad,” the tall man replied, “then he scribbled something down and handed the pages back. His inscription in Streep read,” Don’t screw him up. ” “

Stephen Joshua Sondheim was born March 22, 1930 in New York City. Her father, Herbert, was a dress maker and her mother, Etta, a graduate of the Parsons School of Design, who created the patterns for the dresses. The family lived in a large apartment on Central Park West.

Regarding his parents’ marriage, which ended when Sondheim was 10, he said: “I think – that’s my opinion – it was a good deal. I think my mom was in love with my dad, and he wasn’t in love with her, but needed a designer.

At age 7, Sondheim was taking piano lessons. “My father would sit me on the piano bench and put my hand on his little finger, which played the melody over it. At the end of each year, we were to give recitals for all the little children, ”he says in Meryle’s 1998 book Secrest, Stephen Sondheim: A Life.

“I had a very light right hand, so one of the first pieces I played was Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee. My mom and dad would get me out of bed at cocktail hour if they had clients. They would drag me in my pajamas to play “The Flight of the Bumblebee”. “

After his parents divorced, Sondheim went to live with his mother on a farm in Pennsylvania. Their next door neighbor was the legendary librettist and theater producer Oscar Hammerstein (Show boat, Oklahoma!), who became the boy’s mentor and, as Sondheim noted, a surrogate father.

In 1945, Sondheim presented his first musical, By Georges, to Hammerstein, who told him, “This is the worst thing I have ever read. It was terrible, and if you want to know why it’s terrible, I’ll tell you.

Hammerstein taught him how to build a musical. “I dare say, at the risk of hyperbole, that I learned more that afternoon than most people learn about songwriting in their lifetime,” Sondheim recalled in Joanne Gordon’s 1997 book. Stephen Sondheim: a collection of cases.

Sondheim later attended Williams College, where he majored in music. After graduating in 1950, he won the Hutchinson Prize for Composition and a two-year scholarship to study with avant-garde composer Milton Babbitt.

“I wanted to learn the songwriting technique, and that’s what I learned from him,” Sondheim told NPR in 2010.

“We had four hour sessions once a week, and we spent the first hour analyzing songs by Jerome Kern or [Buddy] DeSylva, [Lew] brown and [Ray] Henderson – classic songs from American theater and American films. … We did an hour on the songs and three hours on Beethoven and Bach, and it was mostly compositional analysis. But I just wanted to write songs. I didn’t want to write concert music.

After his musical studies, he worked as a screenwriter for the CBS series Topper, the 1953-55 comedy adapted from the film about a tense banker (Leo G. Carroll) who can see and hear ghosts.

In 1954, Sondheim composed the music and lyrics for Saturday night, which was to open in the 1954-55 season on Broadway. However, when producer Lemuel Ayers passed away, the production rights went to his widow and the show did not continue. (He eventually appeared in London in 1997 and on Broadway in 2000.)

“I have no emotional reaction to Saturday night at all – except affection, ”he said The New York Times Magazine in 2000. “That’s not a bad thing for a 23 year old. There are things that embarrass me so much about the lyrics – the missed accents, the obvious jokes. But I decided, “Leave it. These are my baby photos. You don’t edit a baby photo, you are a baby! ‘ “

Sondheim got another great chance when he was introduced to Bernstein, who hired him to write the lyrics for West Side Story. This piece also began its association with Prince, who provided funding for the musical.

In a 2010 interview with ABC’s Night line, Sondheim described his work on the play as “embarrassing.”

“Most of the lyrics were sort of… they were very timid. Bernstein wanted the songs to be… heavy, what he called ‘poetic’, and my idea of ​​poetry and his idea of ​​poetry are poles apart, ”he said. “I don’t mean to say they’re terrible; I just want to say that they are so embarrassed about themselves.

The production, of course, was adapted into the 1961 film which won 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He then worked with Styne as a lyricist on Gypsy (1959), with Ethel Merman.

The first show for which Sondheim wrote both music and lyrics was A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. He once said, “When I write words I am very careful. When you write lyrics, there are so few lyrics in the song, so few words… in a lyric, each one has enormous weight. You know, a line in a song is like a scene in a play.

The only songwriter to win a Tony for three consecutive years, Sondheim won his last Tony in competition for 1994. Passion, received the Oscar for Best Original Song in 1991 for Dick tracy“Sooner or Later (I Always Get My Man)”, performed by Madonna, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

In 2010, the Henry Miller Theater on West 43rd Street in New York City was renamed in his honor.

“I’m interested in theater because I’m interested in communicating with audiences,” he once said. “Otherwise, I would be in concert music. I would be in a different kind of profession. I love theater as much as music, and the idea of ​​reaching an audience and making them laugh, make them cry – just make them feel – is very important to me.