Facts about Stephen Sondheim
Stephen Sondheim Biography
Stephen Sondheim wrote music or lyrics for West Side Story, Company, A Little Night Music and nearly a dozen other hit Broadway musicals of the late 20th century. At his death, The New York Times called him the “most revered and influential composer-lyricist of the last half of the 20th century and the driving force behind some of Broadway’s most beloved and celebrated shows.”
Stephen Sondheim’s first break came in the early 1940s, when he and his divorced mother moved from New York City to rural Doylestown, Pa. They lived near the summer residence of Oscar Hammerstein II, who became the boy’s mentor and taught him the craft of composing musical plays. Sondheim went on to study composition at Williams College, from which he graduated in 1950.
After a few years scuffling and establishing himself in theater and television, Sondheim wrote lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music for the huge hit West Side Story (1957). He went on to compose music, lyrics or both for many more hits of his own, including Gypsy (1959), A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962), Company (1970), Follies (1971), Sweeney Todd (1979), Sunday in the Park with George (1984), Into the Woods (1987), and Assassins (1990).
Sondheim’s theatrical influence lay not only in his skill as a composer, and in his famously clever rhymes, but also in his innovative story-telling and musical styles and unexpected subject matter. Examples include controversial discussions of relationships through non-linear vignettes in Company, the blending of contemporary theater with classical Japanese poetry and music in Pacific Overtures (1976), and Sweeney Todd‘s operatic, dark portrayal of 19th-century England.
Stephen Sondheim majored in music at Williams College in Massachusetts and studied composition at Princeton University… A Little Night Music (1973) included his first commercial hit song, “Send in the Clowns”… Side by Side by Sondheim (1976), a hit in London, New York and regional theaters, is a narrated revue of songs with Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics and other composers’ music… His Broadway work repeatedly won Tony, Drama Desk, and New York Drama Critic Circle awards for best musical, best music and best lyrics… He composed scores or songs for the films Stavisky (1974), Reds (1981) and Dick Tracy (1990). The latter won an Academy Award for best song, for the tune “Sooner or Later.”