Stephen Sondheim: master craftsman who reinvented the musical dies aged 91 | Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, the master craftsman of the American musical, has died at the age of 91.

Over the course of a celebrated profession spanning greater than 60 years, Sondheim co-created Broadway theatre classics similar to West Aspect Story, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, all of which additionally grew to become hit motion pictures. His intricate and dazzlingly intelligent songs pushed the boundaries of the artwork type and he made shifting and humorous masterpieces from unlikely topic issues, together with a murderous barber (Sweeney Todd), the Roman comedies of Plautus (A Humorous Factor Occurred on the Technique to the Discussion board) and a pointillist portray by Georges Seurat (Sunday in the Park With George).

Sondheim raised the standing of the musical, which had usually been thought-about comforting and unadventurous household leisure, and used it to discover grownup relationships in all their complexity. Follies and Firm, which obtained rapturous revivals in London in 2017 and 2018 respectively, gave bittersweet accounts of affection and life. His compositions, too, have been richly adventurous. Whereas many musical-theatre creators specialise as both a composer or lyricist, Sondheim excelled at each. After he had established himself on Broadway, he sometimes took cost of music and lyrics in his exhibits.

the 2017 London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies.
Richly adventurous … the 2017 London revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies. {Photograph}: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Sondheim was born on 22 March 1930 in New York. His dad and mom, who each labored in the style trade, divorced when he was 10. He was tutored by certainly one of the biggest lyricist and librettists, Oscar Hammerstein, whose son he befriended at George faculty in Newtown, Pennsylvania. His first musical, written when he was 15, was a satire of that college, entitled By George.

Hammerstein, stated Sondheim, taught him that in writing lyrics “the complete level is to underwrite not overwrite as a result of music is so wealthy an artwork itself”. When Sondheim revealed his two-volume set of memoirs, he recognized three ideas for a lyric author to end up a “respectable lyric”. These have been “much less is extra, content material dictates type and God is in the particulars”.

Sondheim in New York in February 2019.
Sondheim in New York in February 2019. {Photograph}: Bruce Glikas/WireImage

He was 27 when he had his first large hit with West Aspect Story, which relocated Romeo and Juliet to the imply streets of New York Metropolis’s Higher West Aspect and was conceived by Jerome Robbins, with a e book by Arthur Laurents and music by Leonard Bernstein. His lyrics for Tonight, America and Someplace could be beloved by generations of theatregoers however, as a perfectionist and his personal worst critic, he got here to remorse certainly one of Maria’s traces – “It’s alarming how charming I really feel” – in I Really feel Fairly. “That wouldn’t be unwelcome in Noël Coward’s lounge,” he stated. “I don’t know what a Puerto Rican road lady is doing singing a line like that.”

Robbins additionally directed and choreographed Sondheim’s Gypsy, primarily based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, with music by Jule Styne. The Roman farce A Humorous Factor Occurred on the Technique to the Discussion board was the first Broadway present the place the lyrics and music have been each by Sondheim. It received the Tony award for finest musical in 1963.

Take heed to Rosalie Craig as Bobbie sing Being Alive from Firm

Firm, a bittersweet Manhattan musical following a person about city whose pals are all settled down, earned Sondheim Tony awards for finest rating and finest lyrics. It opened in 1970 and had been operating on Broadway for nearly a 12 months when Sondheim’s Follies additionally opened in New York. Follies, by which former showgirls look again at their youthful selves, featured the tune I’m Nonetheless Right here, an anthem of showbiz survival, sung by Elaine Stritch. Firm and Follies are thought-about two of Sondheim’s finest and revivals of each ran concurrently in London in early 2019. The Nationwide Theatre’s manufacturing of Follies obtained a five-star overview from Michael Billington, who stated it “by no means allows you to overlook the astringent unhappiness beneath the spectacle”. Firm, staged in the West Finish, switched the gender of its hero in order that Bobby grew to become Bobbie, performed by Rosalie Craig.

First staged on Broadway in 1979, Sweeney Todd – about the Victorian barber turned serial killer – fused the cheery and the grisly, most notably in the waltz A Little Priest, which celebrated “shepherd’s pie peppered with precise shepherd on high”. The genre-defying present has been carried out in grand opera homes and, in 2014, in a south London pie-and-mash store. That manufacturing transferred to the West Finish after which New York.

Witchy business … Meryl Streep in the 2014 film version of Into the Woods.
Witchy enterprise … Meryl Streep in the 2014 movie model of Into the Woods. {Photograph}: Allstar/Disney

Sondheim recalled the preliminary critiques of Merrily We Roll Alongside, in 1981, as “sneering and hostile. He thought-about quitting however, “like a chilly, it handed”. 4 years later, Sunday in the Park with George introduced him the Pulitzer prize for drama.

The 1987 fairytale mashup Into the Woods was certainly one of many Sondheim musicals to be delivered to the large display screen. The 2014 movie, tailored for the display screen by James Lapine, who wrote the e book for the authentic manufacturing, was directed by Rob Marshall and starred Meryl Streep as a witch and Anna Kendrick as Cinderella.

There have been common revivals of Sondheim’s exhibits and gala concert events and, in 2008, he received a Tony award for lifetime achievement. Imelda Staunton, who starred in productions together with Gypsy and Follies, known as Sondheim “the Shakespeare of the musical world”. She stated: “His tales will dwell so long as Shakespeare’s as a result of he speaks about individuals, about emotional difficulties, about the want all of us have for love or recognition and to be observed. Plenty of musicals are about glad issues – however his musicals are about the tough issues.”

On the information of his loss of life, producer Cameron Waterproof coat issued a press release: “The theatre has misplaced certainly one of its biggest geniuses and the world has misplaced certainly one of its biggest and most authentic writers. Sadly, there may be now a large in the sky. However the brilliance of Stephen Sondheim will nonetheless be right here as his legendary songs and exhibits might be carried out for evermore. Goodbye outdated buddy and thanks from all of us.”

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